McAfee Knob in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, one of the Appalachian Trail’s most scenic vistas. Ben Townsend/Flickr / CC BY 2.0 By Charles C. Chester The Appalachian Trail, North America’s most famous hiking route, stretches over 2,189 mountainous miles (3,520 kilometers) from Georgia to Maine. In any given year, some 3 million people hike on it , including more than 3,000 “thru-hikers" who go the entire distance, either in one stretch or in segments over multiple years. The AT, as it’s widely known, is a national icon on a par with conservation touchstones like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser and the Florida Everglades. It symbolizes opportunity – the chance to set out on a life-altering experience in the great outdoors, or at least a pleasant walk in the woods . Benton MacKaye , the classically trained forester who proposed creating the AT in 1921, saw it as a space where visitors could escape the stresses and rigors of modern industrial life. He also believed it could be a foundation for sound land-use patterns, with each section managed and cared for by local volunteers. MacKaye was a highly original thinker who called for protecting land on a continent-spanning […]

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