America's favorite ramble is getting a few extensions, but the traditionalists are not amused
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WHO WANTS TO TELL a hiker who just walked 2,168 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Maine’s Mount Katahdin that he’s still got a thousand miles left to go? Quite a few people, apparently. Movements to extend the Appalachian Trail along the full length of its namesake mountain system are gaining momentum on both ends of the venerable footpath. And if one group gets its way, the trail will eventually take hikers across Old World terrain. In the next couple of years, volunteers at the Birmingham-based Alabama Trails Association hope to connect their state’s 120-mile Pinhoti Trail via the existing Benton MacKaye Trail to the southern terminus of the AT, and to extend the Pinhoti to the top of Flagg Mountain, near the true southern end of the Appalachian Mountains.
APPALACHIAN TRAIL MAPTo view the map by Allan Cartography, click here
Even bigger plans are being hatched by a nonprofit called the International Appalachian Trail, headed by Freeport, Maine, resident Richard Anderson, 68. The IAT’s first phase, completed in 1999, picks up at the AT’s northern terminus, Baxter State Park, and runs 700 miles through Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec to the seaside cliffs of the Gaspé Peninsula. The second phase, to be mapped this year and finished by 2010, will take hikers across the Gulf of St. Lawrence by ferry, then 620 miles up the Long Range Mountains, on the west coast of Newfoundland, ending at Belle Isle, the northern tip of the Appalachians.
“The next step,” says Anderson, “is to cross the Atlantic.” He’s not kidding. Within a decade he hopes to continue the IAT into the Caledonian Mountains of Great Britain and Scandinavia, the coastal ranges of Spain and Portugal, and the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, all of which were once connected to the Appalachians before continental drift.
Not everyone is happy about the idea of extending the brand. “The board was a little chagrined by the choice of name for the IAT,” says Brian King of the Appalachian Trail Conference, a West Virginia-based organization that maintains the AT. For the time being, they’d like to keep the classic trek distinct from its new neighbors. “Even if we could be convinced to give up 35 years of Maine-to-Georgia tradition, we’d need solid assurances of a strong volunteer force on the ground for any additional sections.”
“I’m supportive of all long-distance trails in North America,” says Brian Robinson, a 41-year-old who in 2001 became the first person to trek the 7,371-mile Triple Crown of hiking—the AT, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail—in a single calendar year. “But the IAT is not the AT, and it never will be.”