Press Release

Book Delves into the History of the Appalachian Trail

May 27, 2021

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Publishes New History of the 20th-Century Appalachian Trail

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (May 27, 2021) – The original Appalachian Trail was shaped across 15 years not by a grand plan meticulously pursued. Instead, it took the mostly scattered efforts of perhaps 200 volunteers and their federal-agency partners, all enchanted by the grand idea presented by Benton MacKaye in October 1921.

The excitement MacKaye engendered led to a few miles built in New York, many more connected in New England, and the formation in March 1925 of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now Conservancy). Then the effort lagged until new leaders came on the scene in 1927.

Photo by Andrew Veal

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has posthumously published From Dream to Reality: History of the Appalachian Trail, by Thomas R. Johnson of Front Royal, Virginia, a career intelligence officer and federal historian and leader in several Appalachian Trail institutions. He became fascinated with the building of the trail.

The book recounts in detail how all the pieces — and not-always-amicable people — came together to complete a connected trail from Maine to Georgia in August 1937, despite four years of the Great Depression.

A hurricane broke the Trail the following year, volunteer leaders were soon dispatched to World War II, and the footpath fell on harder times — until the end of the war and the dawn of thru-hiking brought new attention, new resources, and new continuity by 1951. Soon began a revived drive to secure federal protection, achieved in 1968 and reinforced in 1978, with new leadership of a reinvigorated ATC emerging at the same time.

Mr. Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack on December 5, 2020, while hiking in Shenandoah National Park following a brief history lecture to club members at a shelter there. His 580-page book was being indexed at the time.

The book he left behind, detailing all the major developments and personalities into the early years of this century, was the culmination of more than five years of research in archives and libraries throughout the East and personal interviews with three dozen key figures. It is illustrated with more than 180 contemporary photographs and maps, most of them from the ATC archives and never before published.

From Dream to Reality can be purchased today from Mountaineers Books at


About the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
The ATC was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. A unit of the National Park System, the A.T. ranges from Maine to Georgia and is 2,193.1 miles in length. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. The mission of the ATC is to protect, manage, and advocate for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. For more information, please visit

Media Contact: Brian King
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Tel: 304.885.0823