HARPERS FERRY – In the middle of August back in 1937, the completion of the final two miles of the Appalachian Trail didn’t create much fanfare, according to Appalachian Trail Conservancy historian Brian King.
That certainly isn’t the case now.
The 75th anniversary of the finished trail is being celebrated far and wide, including a weekend-long series of special events at Harpers Ferry.
Finishing the 2,180-mile AT took more than 15 years and required the help of thousands of volunteers, hiking clubs and others. The longest hiking-only footpath in the world, the AT traverses through West Virginia and 13 other states, from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Katahdin, Maine.
The trail has experienced a tremendous growth in public interest in recent years. King said that Benton MacKaye, the forester and conservationist who originally proposed the trail, didn’t envision recreational hikers growing so fond of it.
“He was focused on the idea of study camps connected by the trail,” he said. “The trail was kind of an afterthought.”
Today, nearly two million hikers explore the trail each year, with about 2,500 attempting to “thru-hike,” or take on the entire length of trail in one stretch. About 30 percent of those who set out manage to finish.
In 1987, when towns along the entire length of the trail held grand-scale celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary, only about 10 percent of those who attempted to hike the entire journey completed it, King said.
“Back then you didn’t really have any books about preparation,” he said. “You’ve got many books about preparation now [and] you’ve got a lot of Internet sites of people giving advice.”
This weekend in Harpers Ferry, anyone interested in the AT is invited to come out for guest speakers, workshops, children’s activities, hiking displays, live music and food at the Harpers Ferry Appalachian Trail Visitor Center.
Also planned: a parade from the lower end of town, where many local merchants will offer discounts to celebration participants.
“When you think about the feat of completing the Appalachian Trail … it’s just a real demonstration of cooperative agreement and people working together,” said Javier Folgar, marketing and communications manager of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “That’s really what the celebration’s all about: including all the partners and all the volunteers that really help make this dream a reality.”
The list of guest speakers for the weekend will include representatives from the ATC, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail Museum and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.
The Mather Training Center, part of the historic Storer College campus, will host presentations from AT personalities including Leonard Adkins, author and five-time AT thru-hiker; Gene Espy, second person to thru-hike; and Lucy Seeds, the daughter of “Grandma Gatewood,” the first woman to solo thru-hike.
There will be scores of activities with nature and hiking-related themes, such as a rock-climbing wall for kids and an exhibit on the animals of the AT.
Other offerings will include “Leave No Trace” techniques, tips for female hikers, a thru-hiking workshop, a photographic tour of the trail, poems and stories of the AT, an astronomy lesson and more.
Musical performances are on the lineup Saturday from 2 p.m. and run until 8 p.m. and will include Chelsea McBee, Justin Staines, Randy “Windtalker” Motz, Eric “Fiddler” Zimmerman, Mary Sue “Southern Harp” Roach and the Will Freed Band.
Also on tap: the chance to view “Appalachian Trail, Dream to Reality,” a display by Ethan Haskiell, a fourth-grader who was a winner at the West Virginia Social Science Fair; AT history from the A.T. Museum; a “Walk a Mile in my Shoes” shoe drive; giveaways and more.
On Saturday, anyone interested can sign up for guided hikes happening on Sunday morning. The hikes, ranging from moderate to strenuous, will be led by experts from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and will include parts of the AT and views of the Shenandoah or Potomac rivers.
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited to commemorate this milestone in Appalachian Trail history,” said Mark Wenger, executive director of the ATC. “What better way to celebrate this occasion than providing a weekend filled with hiking-related workshops and activities geared to get people outside and active on the trail?”
A parade, musical performances, kids’ activities, guided hikes, giveaways, lectures on the Appalachian Trail’s history, its animals and even its wildflowers plus other special events mark this weekend’s big celebration of the completion of the AT 75 years ago this month.
For a look at all the Appalachian Trail 75 activities set for this weekend, go to www.appalachiantrail.org and search “75th anniversary” or call the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at 304-535-6331.
Below, some of what’s scheduled on Saturday:
View a variety of Appalachian Trial exhibits and get information on the AT and on local hikes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center, 799 Washington St. in Harpers Ferry. See photos of “thru-hikers,” those who tackle the AT in one long trek.
Kids activities at the AT Visitor Center include temporary tattoos and a 14-state mini-hike of the AT from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; a climbing wall by River Riders from 2 to 5 p.m.; and “Leave No Trace” games and activities from 1 to 4 p.m.
A parade begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bank of Charles Town branch in Harpers Ferry and travels east to the AT Visitor Center. Among those taking part: AT hikers dating to 1951, Friendship Fire Company, Girl Scouts, Harpers Ferry Middle School Band and Smokey Bear.
The special events continue Sunday at the Mather Training Center with a 1 p.m. talk on “Famous Women of the AT” and at 2 p.m., a lecture on what the trail was like 75 years ago.