“Well, I never took the fear with me. I just got out and did it.”
Marcia Fairweather is a project manager from Washington, D.C and is believed to be the first African American Appalachian Trail (A.T.) section-hiker. While she may not have planned to be the first, Marcia’s dedication to exploring and creating a welcoming experience for people of color in the outdoors helped her gain recognition in the natural world.
Marcia has always had a sense of wonder when it comes to nature. She grew up in suburbia near trees and trails. Marcia spent most of her life between DC and Maryland, and her original inspiration to explore the great outdoors came from a place you might not expect.
“I saw a commercial with girls roasting marshmallows, and I told my mom I want to do that," Fairweather said.
While she didn't understand who these girls were or what they were doing, she saw that they were genuinely enjoying being outside and wanted to be a part of it. She began going on hikes with her aunt and even started a group called “The Sunshine Girls.”
Many of the people around Marcia found it out of the norm for her to be so interested in the outdoors. "Black people don't go outdoors," was a phrase she often heard, but Marcia was determined to prove otherwise.
Skiing became a favorite hobby of hers, so Marcia began skiing with large groups. While she was ambitious and willing to venture off in nature, it took time for her to feel comfortable going outside by herself. She also felt that even when she went outdoors with big groups, there weren't many people who looked like her — as if she were out of place. To change the narrative of black people not participating in outdoor activities, Marcia began inviting African Americans in her community and several of her friends out to ski with her.
Marcia and her hiking group at the Mason-Dixon line crossing on the Appalachian Trail.
"The vibe changed,” said Marcia about her first ski trip with what would soon become a usual crowd. “I just felt like I was hanging out with family."
Organized ski trips were just the beginning for Marcia. She soon started coordinating kayaking trips, bike rides and hiking trips for people of color, using word of mouth to gain more participants. She wrote newsletters and encouraged African Americans to feel empowered to go outdoors.
One day while she was hiking with a group, Marcia stumbled upon an A.T. relief map at Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Featuring a 3-D view of the Trail’s journey through the rugged Appalachian Mountain Range, this map inspired her to begin planning a section hike on the A.T. While planning this trip, she had a vision of hiking the Trail with other African Americans, so she designed it to be similar to past trips she had developed for her adventure groups.
Marcia began her hike in August 1994 and planned to complete a section of the trail each month. Her goal was to complete the trail by the age of 50. Being a single mother and a businesswoman may have been obstacles for some, but Marcia dedicated herself to accomplishing this ambitious goal.
Marcia fording a river on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.
In 2008, on her 50th birthday, she completed her hike and earned her trail name — “.2 mile Marci” — after assuring a group that their section had only .2 miles left. Overcoming setbacks like transportation logistics, fear of the unknown, building trust within the group and organizing gear and schedules, Marcia was able to expose underrepresented groups to the A.T. and accomplish her own personal goals in the process.
After hiking the trail, Marcia served on the ATC Board of Directors, currently serves on the organization’s Broader Relevancy Committee and supports the development of the A.T. Vista Program. Marcia is a real hero and is pleased to see how her organized hike on the A.T. brought attention to diversifying the natural world.