MONSON, Maine — Dawn MacPherson-Allen remembers what it was like as a young girl in the late 1950s seeing an Appalachian Trail hiker travel down Pleasant Street into town. The hiker — always dirty, wearing a large backpack and using a walking stick — was an instant celebrity once he was spotted in the community.
“Anyone who came in contact with the hiker had a story to tell. If you fed or sold something to them you were busy for weeks sharing your story with other community members,” said MacPherson-Allen.
As the Appalachian Trail now enters its 75th anniversary, seeing a hiker walk down Pleasant Street around Main Street and onto the Elliotsville Road has become a more common occurrence over the years.
Monson is a community where families have gone from taking in hikers to one where local restaurants and hostels cater to those passing through during their trek along the Appalachian Trail. But hikers still receive a warm, hearty welcome from the town’s inhabitants each time they enter Monson.
The town’s commitment as a destination for road-weary travelers has earned Monson recognition as one of 21 officially designated Appalachian Trail Communities. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy made the designation last October. Town officials held a dedication ceremony on July 21 during Monson’s weekend Summer Fest Celebration to signify the dedication as the state’s only Appalachian Trail Community.
When the Appalachian Trail was first conceived as a hiking trail in 1921, Benton MacKaye envisioned it as a place where people could escape from the “hustle and bustle of city life.” Those seeking to witness the natural beauty of the Appalachian Trail have stopped in the small Piscataquis County community looking for a hot meal, a warm place to sleep and a place to clean up and dry out their clothing.
The town received the Appalachian Trail Community designation after the AT Conservancy reviewed its application and other qualifications. A town must show evidence of how it promotes and protects the trail in order to receive the designation. Once a town receives the designation, the AT Conservancy provides local trail clubs with funds to assist with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation.
“This signifies the vital role that Monson has to offer in the hiking community,” said Town Manager Julie Anderson. “I would like to thank the Maine Appalachian Trail Club for all their work done to the trail. It enables hikers to complete their journeys along the trail and represents economic and recreational opportunities for people who live in the area.”
Monson’s reputation for being a gracious host community was experienced by Hawk Metheny in 1993.
Now Metheny is the New England Regional Coordinator of the Appalachian Trail, but 19 years ago he was a hiker along the Appalachian Trail. He recalled what it was like coming off the trail and experiencing Monson’s hospitality. He stayed at the Shaw House to rest and prepare for the next leg of his journey.
During his stay, he had several conversations with owner Keith Shaw and other Monson residents about the trail and life in general.
“Looking back, it really was a memorable experience,” Metheny said. “I know they saw many hikers over the summer, but each conversation we had seemed to be unique to my situation and to this day that tradition of friendliness continues.”
Maine Appalachian Trail Club President Lester Kenway also made the trek through Monson. He visited in late fall of 1979 just as the Maine winter was approaching. He woke up one morning with 2 inches of snow on his sleeping bag and later trudged through a couple inches of water sitting atop a thick layer of ice as he approached Monson. He also stopped at the Shaw House.
“My memories have stayed with me for 30 years. I know many hikers have benefited from warm beds, good food and hot showers over the years,” Kenway said. “So the recognition of Monson has been long overdue.”
MacPherson-Allen is now the one cooking those famous Shaw House breakfasts as the boarding house’s owner. She recalled a time in the early 1970s when her father brought a 16-year-old boy from off the trail into their home. The boy was bruised, battered and hungry after completing 114 miles of his journey through the northern Maine woods when he entered Monson.
At first, her mother was surprised that her father would bring a stranger into the house. But as Connie MacPherson took a closer look at the boy, her “mother’s instinct” took over. She bandaged the boy’s feet, which were blistered from the toes to the heels. She also prepared him a home-cooked meal which would have been enough to feed four people. Then next morning her father cooked breakfast and once again the young house guest had quite an appetite.
The young man was Eric Ryback, who at the time was the youngest hiker to complete the Appalachian Trail. He also has completed the Pacific Coast and Continental Divide trails.
“Eric wrote a book about his hiking experiences. In one book he wrote [that] if it wasn’t for the kindness of Connie and Donald MacPherson … he would’ve gone home when he reached Monson. This is just one of the many stories about how Monson has shown its hospitality to hikers over the years,” said MacPherson-Allen.