Mudfoot’s Meanderings: The Appalacian Trail: 100 Years After Benton MacCaye’s Dream Inspired America

 

Carrie “Mudfoot” Stambaugh 

For The Beacon

 Editors Note: This is the first installment of an intermittent series on the Appalachian Trail. 

   The most famous hiking trail in the world – The Appalachian Trail – marks an important milestone in 2021. It has been 100 years since the idea of a great Appalachian footpath was first conceived and presented to the American public by Benton MacKaye in the essay, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” It was published in October 1921 by the Committee on Community Planning of the American Institute of Architects. 

   The Appalachian Trail, which now stretches more than 2,100 miles across the mountain range from Georgia to Maine, was actually already under construction in New England when MacKaye penned his famous essay. But the Harvard-educated American forester, conservationist and community planner’s comprehensive proposal was not just a pathway traversing the green spin of the Appalachian Mountains but a utopian vision. 

   His vision was of a linear mountain park, to serve as an escape for the urban masses, which would be served by a network of camps that would feed and house them. The idea, at least for the footpath, took off and was embraced by a network of mountain clubs from New England to the South that built the trail we know today. Generations have now walked on the path through the rolling green hills of the United States eastern mountain, with some visiting for hours while others make a months-long pilgrimage of self-discovery walking the path. 

   I know because I am one of them. I inherited my dream to walk the A.T. from my mother, drawn to the adventure and the challenge of it. When I met my husband, it was his dream too. 

   We set off 16 months into our marriage to walk as far as we could. The ensuring 114-day adventure encompassed 12 states and took us more than 700 miles from Georgia to New York – and then from Massachusetts to Vermont. We have some 700 miles left to complete its entire length. 

   In addition to is the incredible American history and geography lesson we received by walking north through our country, we fortified our bond as a married couple and became a formidable team during the journey. We began calling ourselves Team Stambaugh and created we have our own little marching tune to the cadence of the “The Ants Go Marching.” As we’ve navigated the ups and downs of life hand-in-hand over the last 11 years, we’ve utilized the problem-solving skills we first honed on that trip countless times. 

   The trail also individually heightened our senses of curiosity for the world and reaffirmed our affection for our companions in it. We often still marvel at the memory of spending sunset one evening in Virginia in the company of a porcupine. The creature quite literally stopped us in our tracks and we agreed that in comparison to our expectations, it was both enormous and incredibly slow moving. 

   We also still recall with awe the incredible friends we made and strangers we crossed paths with along the way. 

   I also was reminded along the trail how resilient I can be and how strong my body and mind truly are. It was also along this path that I recognized, with humility, that both also have their limits, and that as I age, this marathon of life requires respecting them. 

   And although life has not allowed us to walk more than a few tenths of a mile on the path together in more than 10 years, we know that it is there…And that is enough, sometimes to soothe even the most severe angst of this weary modern being. 

   And I believe that is exactly what Benton MacKaye intended all along.


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