The small town of Monson is the final glimpse of civilization for thru-hikers before they trek 100 miles on the Appalachian Trail to Mount Katahdin, the terminus of the 2,180-mile trail. In Monson, thru-hikers reconnect, rest and refuel. They grab beers at Spring Creek Bar-B-Q, pick up packages at the post office and enjoy a rare luxury — a night’s sleep in a bed at Shaw’s Lodging.
This summer, in recognition of Monson’s importance to the AT, the town will become Maine’s first Appalachian Trail Community, designated by the Appalachian Trail Conservatory.
“I think it’s very fitting recognition for a community that’s just been there for hikers for decades,” said Lester Kenway, president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.
Kenway, along with other community leaders, will attend the designation ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 21, at the Monson General Store, followed by a reception at the Monson Community Center. The designation is part of Monson’s annual Summerfest, a weekend of community-centered activities.
At the ceremony, Hawk Metheny, the New England director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, will sign the official proclamation, as will Monson’s town manager, Julie Anderson.
“I was born and raised in Monson, and lived right on Main Street. I’ve seen [hikers] go by my house for a long time,” Anderson said. “We’re met a lot of interesting people, and some of them said that we are one of the friendliest towns they’ve had on the trail, and we’d like to keep that going.”
The Appalachian Trail Community designation is a new program of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, or ATC, the nonprofit responsible for management and protection of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Launched in 2010, this program recognizes communities for their part in promoting awareness of the AT as an important local and national asset. Currently 21 towns along the trail carry the designation.
“AT communities are vital to the hiking experience, so we just want a way to recognize that and honor that,” said Julie Judkins of the ATC. “Monson has long been a friend of the AT.”
With the designation, Monson will receive two aluminum road signs naming Monson as an Appalachian Trail Community. The town will also receive recognition in multiple ATC publications (hiking guides, maps and newsletters), and a full Web page will be dedicated to Monson on the conservancy website, www.appalachiantrail.org.
“It’s a commitment to a partnership,” Judkins said. “[The conservancy] will support [Monson] in any kind of local initiatives that support the AT by providing what kind of resources we can.”
In return, Monson has formally committed to support the AT.
Towns close to the proximity of the AT corridor must apply to join the select group of Appalachian Trail Communities and commit to meet at least two of four criteria: create an advisory committee; host an annual AT volunteer project, event or celebration; create an AT-related educational or service-learning program or project; and include language for the protection of the AT in land-use plans, planning tools, ordinances or guidelines.
“The Appalachian Trail, to a town, is a great economic impact,” Anderson said. “We’ve lost a lot of our industry, so the businesses really thrive in the summertime from that clientele. Also, [the designation] will let people know that the AT is near Monson and is a natural resource we should take advantage of.”
Members of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, the group responsible for managing all 267 miles of the trail in Maine, will provide information about their club and the AT at the reception. The club will also lead guided hikes along the AT on Sunday, July 22 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Monson Community Center, following a 7 a.m. pancake breakfast.
Rangeley in western Maine will become Maine’s second Appalachian Trail Community on Sept. 15, joining a network of communities from Dahlonega, Ga., at the beginning of the trail to Monson, the last stop on the final stretch.