The AT: An American Tradition

By Lindsay Harrington, Graduate Assistant

Driving on Route 206 near the School of Conservation, a trail sign marks the crossing
of the Appalachian Trail across the busy highway. As a child, I remember seeing
Appalachian Trail crossing signs while driving to and from my parent’s Pocono
vacation home. I still have the same feeling when I cross the trail today-curiosity.
Often times, thru hikers can be seen at the local businesses in town and I cannot help but feel jealous of the
feat they are undertaking as a hiker on this infamous trail. Few of us have the luxury of taking 6 months out of our lives to hike miles every day out of the reaches of the “real world” and it’s smoggy highways and traffic jams. Even the few steps I have taken on the trail with its white trail blazes has made me feel like I am part of an important American tradition. This has given me an appreciation for the miles of wilderness that stretches along the eastern United States.

The Appalachian Trail or “AT” as many enthusiast call it is approximately 2,181 miles long and stretches from
Springer Mountain, Georgia across 14 states and wilderness, to Mount Katahdin located in Baxter State Park, Maine. The trail was conceived by a forester named Benton MacKaye in 1921. In 1923 the first sections of the trail were built but it was not until 1937 that it was finally completed. The project was taken over by a lawyer named Myron Avery in the 1930s and he was the first to walk the entirety of the trail but not in a single attempt. The first “thru hiker” or individual to start the tradition of walking the trail in its entirety was Earl Shaffer in 1948. Since then, over 4,000 people have successfully completed at thru hike. There have been many memorable hikers over the years including the fastest hiker, David Horton who completed it in 52 days, Bill Erwin with his Seeing Eye dog, and Emma Gatewood who completed the trail twice in her 60s.

For those not up for hiking the trail in its entirety, the 72 miles that cross through New Jersey offer a view some of the most beautiful wilderness in the state. It would take a few days to complete the whole section through our state but there are several options for day hikes in New Jersey. The AT enters the state in the
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and travel north along the Kittatiny Ridge through Stokes State Forest, High Point State Park, until it crosses into New York near Wawayanda State Park. Anyone familiar with these areas knows that the scenic views and untouched wilderness of these areas are a must see for any nature enthusiast. Be prepared to see wildlife including numerous bird species, wildflowers, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

Day trips in New Jersey require little more than a pair of sturdy shoes, water, and some
food. While the Internet is a great place to look for information about sections of the trail in New Jersey, most road maps will be able to give you a good idea of where to begin and end your hike. It may be useful to ask visitor
services at High Point, Stokes, or Wawayanda State Parks about hiking the AT as they may have a good idea about parking and also current trail conditions. Some sections of trail that are great for day hikes in New Jersey include:

  • Route 519 to Route 23
  • Route 23 to Deckertown Road
  • Deckertown Road to Culver’s Gap
  • Culver’s Gap to Blue Mountain Road
  • Blue Mountain Lakes Road to Catfish Pond
  • Mohican Outdoor Center to the Delaware Water Gap

One of the major concerns for hikers and for those considering hiking on the trail is the possibility of bear attacks. Of the 700,000 black bears in North America, their population is the largest along the Appalachian Trail. This is due to the fact that the trail stretches across thousands of miles and also through some of the densest wilderness on the east coast. Black bear encounters are common on the trail but very rarely do they end badly for the hiker. There have been only 23 confirmed cases of mortality due to black bear attacks from the year 1900-1980 on the Appalachian Trail. Hikers in New Jersey may see bears and it is always important to remember not to try to approach them or any other wild animal. Chances are the only view you will get of a black bear is its back
end as it runs away!

For anyone looking for firsthand account of the hardships and excitement of hiking the AT Bill Bryson’s novel A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail is a must read. Bryson’s travelogue is my favorite account of a journey along the AT. The book documents not only Bryson’s journey but also the historical, environmental, and social impacts of the trail. His book is a great way to get your mind out on the AT even if you cannot do so yourself. It is Bryson’s hope in his account of hiking the Appalachian Trail that the reader stop pushing nature away but realize its importance.

A hike along the Appalachian Trail is a great way to get outside, enjoy New Jersey’s wilderness, and also to stay healthy. If you plan on taking any hike, remember to pack the appropriate gear, stay hydrated, and always let someone know where you plan on exploring. Remember to preserve the beauty of the Appalachian Trail by not littering and leaving only footprints behind so that future generations can enjoy this unique American tradition.

References

  • Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
  • New York: Broadway Books, 1998. Print.
  • Bell, Frank. “Short Hikes on the Long Trail.” Skylands Visitor Summer 2011: pg. 8-11. Print.