Thursday, July 28, 2016
July 28, 2016: American Camping: Appalachian Trailblazers
[This week, I’ll be camping with family up in Maine’s beautiful Acadia National Park. So I wanted to AmericanStudy come contexts for this longstanding form of national recreation and escape. Share your camping contexts in comments, please!]
1) Benton MacKaye: It stands to reason that the idea for the Appalachian Trail was first developed, in the 1921 article “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” by a Forestry professor and civil servant. But what is perhaps more surprising, and very important, is MacKaye’s lifelong emphasis on such wilderness exploration as an integral part of human society, rather than in any sense separate from it; he called this connection of nature to society both “Regional Planning” and “Geotechnics,” and dedicated his career to arguing for and enacting it. As other posts this week have illustrated, many of our narratives of camping and the wilderness define them as distinctly outside from (and contrasted with) our more “settled” social spaces and communities—but that’s not the narrative or understanding with which the Appalachian Trail began, and remembering MacKaye’s vision is a vital part of celebrating the Trail.
2) Myron Avery: The building of the Trail required not only a visionary creator from within the forestry world, but also dedicated laymen advocates and leaders from outside it, and it found two such champions in retired Judge Arthur Perkins and his lawyer protégé Myron Avery. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Perkins and Avery worked to make MacKaye’s vision a reality; Perkins passed away in 1932, but Avery continued the work, serving as chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference from 1931 until his own death in 1952 (the wonderful 75th anniversary article at that hyperlink includes a great deal of info on all of the subjects of today’s post). MacKaye and Avery did have their conflicts, most especially over the relationship between outside influences (both governmental and business) and the trail; as you might expect, the lawyer Avery was more open to such connections than the forester MacKaye. Yet the simple truth is that the creation, development, and maintenance of the Trail depended on both men and perspectives, and still does as we near the Trail’s 100th anniversary.
3) Earl Shaffer: Yet for the Trail to grow and prosper and endure, it needed more than creators and leaders—it also, and most crucially, needed hikers. No AT hiker was more famous or influential than Earl Shaffer, the outdoorsman and World War II veteran whose 1948 through-hike was the first documented journey of the whole Trail (and earned him the nickname The Crazy One). Shaffer’s associated with the Trail continued for the rest of his life, most especially in his 1998 anniversary through-hike (at the age of 79!), which provided the material for his book The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills. While of course Shaffer was singular in many ways, I would argue that he was also and most saliently deeply representative—not only of those intrepid souls who have completed the whole of the Appalachian Trail, but of all for whom it has become a meaningful journey and space. Shaffer once said that he completed the 1948 hike in order to “walk the war out of my system,” and who among us doesn’t have such life experiences and motivations for a walk in the woods?
Last camping context tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other camping contexts you’d highlight?