AUGUSTA, Maine — The North American leg of the International Appalachian hiking trail got a major boost Thursday as chapters in several European countries endorsed the project, which promises to become the world’s largest trail network.
Trail clubs in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Ireland and Wales formally joined the International Appalachian Trail during a meeting in Aviemore, Scotland, IAT officials said.
The IAT is an extension of the Appalachian Trail, which extends from northern Maine to northern Georgia along the Appalachian Mountains. The IAT begins near Maine’s Mount Katahdin and extends through eastern Canadian provinces. Hikers can continue on the IAT by crossing the Atlantic Ocean by boat or plane and picking it up in Greenland and Iceland, IAT officials said.
“By joining, they [the international chapters] will set up a trail in their territory,” IAT geologist Walter Anderson said. “Now we have jumped the pond.”
The extended trail will follow mountains that were formed millions of years ago when the continental plates of North America and Europe collided. The Appalachians were formed in North America, and the Caledonian and Atlas mountains were formed across the ocean.
Greenland and Scotland joined the IAT last year, and the IAT hopes to add Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria next year.
Anderson said the extension will not require extensive construction of new trails because in many places they already exist. Making them a part of the IAT, he said, will be a matter of identifying them with IAT markers.
The IAT said that when the trail is completed, it will become the largest trail network in the world, with multinational membership on three continents. The organization said it sees the trail as a “fantastic opportunity” for out-door adventure companies interested in providing services in a market that’s home to 800 million people.
While many references call the Appalachian Trail the longest continuous footpath in the world, a number of other planned or existing trails compete for the title of longest.
The IAT begins near the end of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail. From Maine it winds nearly 1,900 miles through eastern Canada before ending in northern Newfoundland. It then will jump to Greenland and Iceland — hikers must make their own overseas travel arrangements — before continuing through Scandinavian countries, Britain and Ireland, back to the European mainland and on to the African nations Morocco and Algeria.
The IAT, proposed on Earth Day 1994, was the idea of Richard Anderson, a fisheries biologist and former commissioner of Maine’s Department of Conservation, according to its website. There are dozens of official campsites along the trail, famous for its parks, mountains and scenic views.