The A.T. began as a vision of forester Benton MacKaye He envisioned a trail that would offer the urban dweller an escape. The Appalachian Trail opened as a continuous trail in 1937. It was designated as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act of 1968.
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the conservation movement in America was launched by President Teddy Roosevelt. In the northeast many proposals had been made prior to 1921 to create a "super" trail. but it was Benton MacKaye's "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning" published in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in October of 1921, that really sparked the conservationist into action.
The original proposal was for a footpath to run from the highest point in the northern Appalachians being Mt. Washington and New Hampshire, to the highest point in the southern Appalachians being, Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina. Within a year work began on "America's Footpath within two years members of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference completed and opend the first section of the Appalachian Trail in the Palisade Interstate Park, from Pennsylvania to Connecticut across theBear Mountain State Park in New York.
By 1925, at a meeting in Washington, DC, leaders of local hiking clubs founded the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) which expedited the dream towards reality. Major William A. Welch, ATC's first chairman and manager of the Palisade Interstate Park was to oversee the construction and management of the Trail. At this meeting, the group also decided that the Trail's route would run 1700 miles from Cohutta Mountains in Georgia to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with possible extensions to Katahdin, Maine to the north and Birmingham, Alabama to the south.
Little was known by the ATC about the North Georgia mountains and they mostly planned the trail by referring to maps. So Roy Ozmer, woodsman and friend of Georgia Ranger Arthur Woody was put in charge of exploring the area from Virginia to Georgia. Togther knowing the area, they felt that extending the Appalachian Trail to Mount Oglethorpe, east of Jasper, was a better choice for the end of the trail. Woody assisted personally in the construction of the route in Georgia from Bly Gap to Mount Oglethorpe, which was completed in 1931.
Construction accelerated in the late 1920s. Myron Avery who was Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) co-founder, and the chairman of ATC durring 1931-1952, tirelessly recruited volunteers for the Trail and scouted, blazed, and built many miles himself. By the end of 1934, more than 1900 miles of the AT was complete.
As the Trail continued to take shape it became clear that Avery and MacKaye had very different visions of the Appalachian Trail . Avery saw it as a trail for people to enjoy outdoor recreation. MacKaye's saw the trail as a connection between working communities. The Skyline Drive project in Shenandoah National Park further highlighted their differences. Avery saw it as good publicity for the AT and thought the road would speed the trail's construction (In fact Civilian Conservation Corps workers did build a section of trail around the Drive). MacKaye believed that roads had no place on wilderness ridges and saw such roads as business conspiracies to make money as they destroyed wilderness. MacKaye no longer wanted to be associated with the AT project; he focused his energy instead on the Wilderness Society which he co-founded in 1935.
On August 14, 1937 the trail was completed.,with the clearing of the last 2 miles between Spaulding and Sugarloaf Mountains in Maine. At the time the trail stretched from Mount Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park to Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia. The trail, as envisioned, was a "ridge-line" trail, going from high-point to high-point, along the highest route available becoming a continuos footpath connecting Georgia and Maine.
Because of hurricanes, war and neglect, the trail was being reclaimed by natureand fell into disrepair. A hurricane in 1938 destroyed large portions of its New England path as it swept up the coast and did heavy damage to the Trail. With the advent of WWII a year later, volunteers and fuel were in short supply . Then the connection of the Skyline Drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1940's displaced a section of the trail 120 miles long.
In the early 1950's interest renewed in the trail and it was not until 1951 that the Appalachian Trail was continuous again. The designation of the Appalachian Trail as a National Scenic Trail was a long political battle lasting 15 years, ending with President Lyndon Johnson signing the National Trails System Act in 1968. This act, originally intended to protect the land near the Appalachian Trail was rewritten to include any footpath designated as a National Scenic Trail. Today "America's Trail" and others in the National Scenic Trail System, with few exceptions, are on land that is federally protected.
Through the years development, such as ski resorts, mountain subdivisions, highways, and logging, has forced the Trail's route to change. In 1958 overdevelopment near Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia necessitated the movement of the AT's southern terminus 20 miles north to Springer Mountain