The longest continuously marked footpath in the world runs through Maine’s backyard, and it’s reaching a milestone this year.
Seventy-five years ago, on August 14, 1937, the Appalachian Trail was completed by numerous volunteers and a dedicated group of Civilian Conservation Corps volunteers working tirelessly on the trail. The plaque marking the culmination of a 16-year effort to build the trail from Georgia to Maine rests on the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain in plain view of hikers.
The Appalachian Trail grew from a 1921 article written by forester Benton MacKaye who visualized a long trail to provide recreation and a focus for land preservation along the eastern seaboard of the United States. The trail was started in New York during the 1920s and reached Maine in the early 1930s. As the project progressed, Mainer Myron Avery championed building the pathway across Maine.
From his vision, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club was established in 1935 and continues to this day, fulfilling its mission to maintain and manage 267 miles of the Maine section of this national treasure.
The Maine Appalachian Trail Club, or MATC, represents 400 volunteers who roll up their sleeves every year to maintain and improve the 267 miles of trail and the 37,000 acres of National Park Service lands that secure the route of the trail.
There is a variety of volunteer opportunities, from assuming maintenance of a few miles of the trail to joining a Maine Trail Crew for a week of trail work. Still others monitor the AT lands around the trail. The MATC welcomes new volunteers interested in experiencing this sense of being part of something much bigger than ourselves. Conservation and public service are the core values of the club.
It’s estimated that more than 90,000 hiker days are spent on some or all of the AT in Maine each year. The AT provides economic development opportunities for the towns it passes through or nearby as it winds its way across Maine.
In July, Monson became the first Maine town designated as an Appalachian Trail Community in recognition of the services it has provided to hikers for over 70 years. The hospitality and welcoming spirit Monson and like-minded communities exhibit embody the AT experience.
Given the grandeur of the trail, it may seem daunting to join this community, but the truth is you don’t have to hike the AT to be part of its spirit and legacy. This trail represents the vision and passion of a few individuals who mobilized thousands of volunteers to see to its completion.
The legacy is shared by a wide range of supporters, both day and thru-hikers (who complete the roughly 2,180-mile trek) and those who live near or alongside the trail, including business owners, school children, retirees and outdoor enthusiasts.
To recognize the 75th anniversary of the completion of the AT in Maine, a celebration is planned on Saturday, Aug. 18, in Carrabassett Valley. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club, town of Carrabassett Valley and Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust are hosting an event that kicks off with hikes along the last section of trail that was completed or short walks from the observation tower to the commemorative plaque.
The day will be capped with a ceremony and barbecue social featuring special guests reliving trail memories. Information is posted on www.matc.org, and all are welcome to become a part of AT history.
The Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, town of Carrabassett Valley and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club proudly host this historic event. We salute the people and organizations that have contributed to the trail and look forward to welcoming fellow AT enthusiasts on Aug. 18.
Lester Kenway is president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. This OpEd is supported by Bill Plouffe, president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, and Dave Cota, Carrabassett Valley town manager.