A Century of Inspiration

Benton MacKaye: Celebrating a Vision

“Life for two weeks on the mountain top would show up many things about life during the other fifty weeks down below… There would be a chance to catch a breath, to study the dynamic forces of nature and the possibilities of shifting to them the burdens now carried on the backs of men.”
-Benton MacKaye, 1921

2021 marks the 100-year anniversary of the publication of Benton MacKaye’s groundbreaking article, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” As MacKaye presented it, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) would be “a new approach to the problem of living,” providing opportunities not only for recreation, but also for health, recuperation, and connections with nature in an increasingly industrialized world.

Even after a century, MacKaye’s original vision continues to inspire and guide us at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Throughout the year, we will be examining the impacts of MacKaye’s vision for the Trail, what has been accomplished so far, and what the next century of A.T. conservation will look like.

READ THE GROUNDBREAKING ARTICLE

 

The A.T. Footpath and Beyond

 

“A realm and not a trail marks the full aim of our effort. The trail is but the entrance…”
-Benton MacKaye

MacKaye understood, after seeing firsthand the rapid expansion of industrialization in the early 19th century, that a 2,000-mile footpath alone would not be enough. In order to preserve the Trail for future generations, a “realm” of forests, clean water, and other sources of life surrounding the A.T. must be established, nurtured, and protected.

The “Oxygen” of the Trail

 

“The oxygen in the mountain air along the Appalachian skyline is a natural resource (and a national resource) that radiates to the heavens its enormous health-giving powers with only a fraction of a percent utilized for human rehabilitation. Here is a resource that could save thousands of lives.”
-Benton MacKaye

By protecting A.T. forests and other habitats, improving their health through restoration and stewardship, and improving access to the Trail for visitors to explore and enjoy, the ATC and its Trail management and landscape conservation partners have helped maintain and protect the largest contiguous greenway east of the Mississippi River.

Now we are faced with an accelerating challenge not only for the A.T. but for the world: climate change. As the negative impacts of climate change become more evident through scientific study and analysis, the importance of increasing the resiliency of the A.T. landscape has never been more important.

The Trail’s Natural Beauty

 

“The Appalachian Trail indeed is conceived as the backbone of a super reservation and primeval recreation ground covering the length (and width) of the Appalachian Range itself, its ultimate purpose being to extend acquaintance with the scenery and serve as a guide to the understanding of nature.”
-Benton MacKaye

By providing an access point to nature within reach of America’s most dense population areas, from Boston to Atlanta, millions would be given a way to easily find the optimism only provided by nature. Yet MacKaye knew that much more than a footpath would be needed — conserving the natural beauty of the lands around the Trail was essential for ensuring this natural experience would remain for the benefit of future generations.


 

The “Opportunity” the Trail Provides

“And this is the job that we propose: a project to develop the opportunities – for recreation, recuperation, and employment – in the region of the Appalachian skyline.” -Benton MacKaye, 1921

 

Photographs