By Michele S. Byers
The Appalachian Trail, the granddaddy of American hiking trails, turned 75 on Aug. 14. Unlike many people, you can honestly say this venerable footpath is not just getting older, it’s getting better!
Known by hikers as the “AT,” the trail runs about 2,160 miles through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The elbow-shaped New Jersey section covers about 74 miles, from the Delaware Water Gap at the Pennsylvania border in Warren County to Wawayanda State Park and Abram S. Hewitt State Forest near the New York border in Passaic County.
The Appalachian Trail not only crosses New Jersey, it was BORN in New Jersey! The trail was the brainchild of a former forester and regional planner named Benton MacKaye, who shared his vision with others at a fateful July 1921 meeting at an estate known as Hudson Farm in Andover, Sussex County.
The same year, MacKaye published an article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, proposing to allow people to escape the drudgery of urban life and discover nature through a series of camps along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, all connected by a trail.
The original trail was built over the course of 15 years by volunteers, state and federal partners, trail clubs, and young workers in the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. It was completed on Aug. 14, 1937.
Today, the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and 30 separate trail groups help manage and maintain the AT. Every year, thousands of volunteers contribute 200,000 hours to maintaining and improving the trail.
An estimated two-to-three million hikers visit the Appalachian Trail each year for treks of varying lengths.
And each summer, 2,000 to 3,000 hikers attempt a “thru-hike,” or completion of the whole trail in one journey of about six months. Only about a quarter of those succeed, but the number of “2,000 Milers” has steadily increased over the past several decades, from 1,415 in the 1980s, to 3,287 in the 1990s to 5,839 in the 2000s.
Why not celebrate the 75th birthday of the Appalachian Trail with a hike along one of the New Jersey sections?
The western leg of the New Jersey section begins off Interstate 80 by the Delaware Water Gap and follows the Kittatinny Mountain ridge, parallel to the Delaware River. Heading in a northeasterly direction, the AT crosses Worthington State Forest, runs along the beautiful Sunfish Pond and past other lakes like Long Pine Pond and Crater Lake, through Stokes State Forest, and into High Point State Park at New Jersey’s northern tip.
Less than a mile before the state line, the AT turns 90 degrees, now paralleling the New York border while heading in a southeasterly direction. Near Wawayanda State Park and Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, the trail finally swings northward and crosses into New York.
There are plenty of options for day or overnight hikes along the AT within the Garden State. To find a New Jersey hike, check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website at www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/ find-a-hike/hikes–nj. The New Jersey Skylands website also describes AT hikes and scenery at www.njskylands.com/odhikeaptrl.htm.
Even if you’re planning only a short hike, be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots and carry plenty of drinking water and snacks. Birthday cake is optional!
And, if you find that a short jaunt on the Appalachian Trail makes you crave more, you can see an interactive map of the entire AT on the National Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov/appa/index.htm. Happy trails!
To learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.