Celebrating a Vision

Mary Higley

I consider myself an ambassador for the Appalachian Trail and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Having hiked most of the Trail and having served as an ATC Board member for many years, I think I have a good perspective on how the ecosystem works. I’m not sure most users of the Trail understand the complexities of the relationships with the Trail clubs, the federal agencies, state parks, etc. It took me several years of board service to understand this myself. When other hikers complain to me about something related to the A.T., I try to educate them about those relationships.

My relationship to the A.T. – apart from the ATC – is defined by the physical challenge it presents. I have hiked a portion of the Trail every year since 2008. When I started hiking the A.T., my only goal was to prove to myself that I still had retained some of my athletic ability from my younger days. That desire still exists and is the primary reason I continue to work on completion of the Trail.

I would define my past relationship with the A.T. as one of fascination. This started in 1975 when I read James Hare’s two-volume Hiking the Appalachian Trail. I couldn’t believe that there was a path in the woods that would take me from Georgia to Maine. Today, I would say that the A.T. is a place where I feel safe and empowered to hike by myself; where I constantly discover the good in people; and where I can slow down enough to appreciate the beauty of the Trail and its surroundings. In terms of the future, I believe the ATC and its partners will need to further address overuse issues. Protecting the adjacent landscape and enlisting more volunteer maintainers will become increasingly important to protect this amazing resource.

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