Much of the Appalachian Trail Isn't Where It Once Was

The 'Washington Post' examines some of the major changes to its path
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2023 1:30 PM CDT
Much of the Appalachian Trail Isn't Where It Once Was
Rock steps along the Appalachian Trail in Stokes State Forest in New Jersey.   (Getty Images / Frank DeBonis)

The hikers who tackle the Appalachian Trail are anything but stationary—and as it turns out, the trail itself is anything but stationary as well. Writing for the Washington Post, Lizzie Johnson and Lauren Tierney take a fascinating dive into the continually transforming trail, which originally numbered 2,050 miles when it was completed in 1937 and now clocks in at nearly 2,200. A jaw-dropping line: "By many historians' estimate, less than half of the trail remains where it was originally laid." George Mason University professor Mills Kelly puts the number of modifications as somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000, and while many of them are minor, Johnson and Tierney explore some of the more significant ones.

One of the biggest might also be one of the most surprising: The southern terminus of the trail is 37 miles north of where it sat for the AT's first two decades. During those early years, the starting point was on Georgia's Mount Oglethorpe, specifically near a 38-foot-tall Washington Monument-like obelisk. But over the years, the area grew less appealing—due to malodorous chicken farms, moonshine operators who weren't keen to have hikers around, and portions cleared by timber companies. Trail officials in 1958 voted to push the starting point to Springer Mountain, which sits in the Chattahoochee National Forest, "a place that was greener," note Johnson and Tierney, who explain that many of the shifts were made in a similar pursuit of providing a more nature-steeped experience. (Read the fascinating full story for more on the major changes.)

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