The Appalachian Trail matters because it challenges people to their physical and mental limits. It gives hikers a route from which to see the beauty of rural America. It contributes to the protection of mountains, rivers and lakes.
Tuesday marks the official day that the AT was completed 75 years ago. It’s an apt time to remember why the trail — one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world — matters to Maine and the country.
The roughly 2,180-mile trail from Georgia to Maine provides an opportunity for both camaraderie and calm. It gives little towns a chance to show their hospitality to strangers. It supplies 14 states on the eastern seaboard with something to defend together.
The AT draws two to three million people from around the world each year. It provides jobs. It encourages people to leave no trace. It’s good for a day hike or one that takes months. You fulfill its purpose just by walking.
The trail gives people a good reason to come to Maine, with sections such as the 100-Mile Wilderness and the terminus of Mount Katahdin being particular draws. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy lists Maine’s 281 miles as being the most difficult of all the states — creating a particular source of pride for those who finish them.
The trail helps people get physically fit and sometimes even becomes a form of therapy. It’s been the inspiration for many books.
People who have hiked sections or the entire AT know the trail generates a feeling of community — because it presents a challenge that is best overcome with others. Hikers make new friends and connections that remain after they finish hiking. It’s easy to get to know someone when you watch for bears, commiserate about blisters and sleep in the same lean-to together.
The AT also shows the importance of having a sense of humor. If you watch one of the videos posted to the conservancy’s contest “ Why do you Love the Appalachian Trail?” you will see a hiker reaching deep into a pit of mud to retrieve his hiking shoe. Hiking requires grit.
The AT has been a tremendous gift to Maine and other states. It should be enjoyed and celebrated. Happy 75th birthday, Appalachian Trail.