By Bob Scott

The First A.T. Community

May 23, 2024

There was a time when thu-hikers dropped into Franklin, North Carolina off the Appalachian Trail with an Army surplus rucksack and wearing high topped tennis shoes or leather boots. They might have been carrying a rubber raincoat, a sheath knife, a canteen, cans of Vienna Sausages, and saltine crackers. Freeze dried food had not yet been invented. They likely would have hitchhiked into and out of Franklin, and their arrival would have been an oddity. Locals would’ve wondered if they were hippies.

Hikers under a banner in Franklin, NC

Now, Franklin is currently hosting hundreds of members of the northbound (NOBO) thru-hiking class of 2024. From a place that was once skeptical of hippie-looking travelers, Franklin became a town that embraced A.T. hikers. From the days when the only thing to do at night in Franklin for a hiker was to watch the unloading of lumber at the lumber yard, to the vibrant Trail community that it is today, Franklin’s efforts to welcome hikers are remarkable.

In 2010, the town of Franklin began organizing to support the group of wanderers walking through town, and the Trail itself. Just 110 miles from the start of the trail at Springer Mountain, GA, Franklin formed an Appalachian Trail Community Council (FATCC), which now has 25 members. Even before that, a small group of people watched over the 60 plus miles of the A.T. in Macon County as Trail Maintainers.

“Thru-hikers as well as Section Hikers on the Appalachian Trail passing through our community have had a positive influence on our economy as well as providing an excellent opportunity to promote the tourism industry here,” said Jack Horton, Franklin’s Mayor.

As they began to formalize their efforts, the town of Franklin, the FATCC, and the 300 members of the Nantahala Hiking Club learned about and then applied to be part of the A.T. Community Program. In 2010, the Town was designated as the first A.T. Community.

Hiker signing poster, Franklin NC

Now, the Town creates a large welcome display on the town square for each year’s class of A.T. thru-hikers to sign in and photograph their memories as they pass through the community. Local churches, community organizations, and other volunteers help provide meals, accommodations, and a friendly atmosphere of assistance and congratulations to those hardy folks who seek the beauty and tranquility of the mountains of western North Carolina. Outdoor 76 and Three Eagles, two local outfitters, opened stores here to help hikers continue their journeys.


In addition to the resources provided for hikers, the town also sponsors “Trail Days” and other special events. The local Baptist church provides free breakfasts of pancakes, bacon, coffee, and fruit along with survival bags of items like lip balm and band aids. Last year, the church hosted 609 hikers. This is the 17th year the church has been doing this free event, and it has become a meeting place for locals and hikers to get to know each other and connect over their love of the A.T.


The town celebrates the A.T. from the first day of spring through Earth Day with even more events for hikers with outdoor music, food, and gear shakedowns. The Macon County Public Library opens its doors with a “Walking with Spring” series that corresponds with the thru-hiker season and highlights A.T. hikers, authors, outdoor activities, and opportunities in the area.

Hiker at the end of the day relaxing; Franklin, NC

The diversity of the hikers who drop into Franklin is wonderful. Franklin has hosted wounded veterans, blind hikers, hikers fresh out of university, retirees, and so many others. Thanks to the diversity of hikers, Franklin is now a vibrant A.T. Community where residents and visitors can come together to celebrate the Trail.