How the AT was created and surveyed, from Avery’s wheel to GPS
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is very old, very long, and iconic. Completed in 1937, it stretches 2,189 miles through 14 states, 88 counties, 168 townships, eight national forests, six national parks, two national wildlife refuges, and more than 65 state game lands, wildlife management areas, parks, and forests. It has been called the “interstate highway” of trails, and people travel from all over the world to hike it.
The trail is still changing, with five major relocations and as many as 20 minor ones every year. Its age, size, and constant evolution make it very challenging to survey and capture in a GIS. Nevertheless, that task is mostly complete, and the National Park Service (NPS) has just released an updated, interactive online map of the entire trail.
A footpath along the Appalachian Mountains had existed since the early 1900s. In a 1921 article, Benton MacKaye—a forester, planner, and conservationist with degrees from Harvard—first proposed building a trail. Four years later, the Appalachian Trail Conference, later renamed the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), was founded to build and maintain the trail. It began work on the trail shortly thereafter and completed it by 1937.