History of the Appalachian Trail
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
Formed over 250 million years ago, the Appalachian Mountain range runs along eastern North America from Canada to the state of Alabama. These mountains were an important part of the landscape for the Native peoples that lived in our region, and they played a significant role in the European colonization of America. The Appalachians proved to be a natural boundary between the English colonists to the east and French settlers to the west in the early 1700s.
Most people who visit Monroe County wonder at the scenic beauty and rich natural history of this old mountain range. During the first half of the 20th century, one man envisioned a trail that would provide an opportunity for the average person to experience not only the health benefits of the clean mountain air, but to witness America’s natural beauty. This man was Benton MacKaye.
MacKaye was born in New England in 1879 and studied forestry and conservation at Harvard University. In October 1921, following World War I, MacKaye published An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning. In his article, MacKaye discussed the importance of creating a healthy labor force by encouraging American workers to take a vacation from their work environment to experience the natural environment. At that time, many of the U.S. wilderness areas were located in the West and were not accessible to the average Easterner. By creating a trail close to metropolitan areas, MacKaye felt Americans would experience a boost in their heath by promoting “oxygen intake” and would gain perspective on life through recreation. MacKaye also felt that once Americans experienced the Appalachian Mountains firsthand, they would settle into these rural areas to call them home.
MacKaye’s trail opened as a continuous footpath on August 14, 1937 and became designated as the first National Scenic Trail in October 1968. Today, this Appalachian Trail extends 2,174 miles from Mount Katahdin in Maine south through 14 states, eight National Forests and two National Parks to Springer Mountain in Georgia. The Appalachian Trail runs along the Monroe/Northampton County border for a little over 35 miles. From Delaware Water Gap through Totts Gap over Wolf Rocks and beyond Wind Gap and Smith Gap, Monroe County’s scenery and natural history can be viewed from high atop the Appalachian Mountains.