Good Life

Take a hike on the iconic Appalachian Trail

Third Thursday event participants walk along part of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania last year.
Third Thursday event participants walk along part of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania last year. Photo provided

The Appalachian Trail has been mastered by the best.

It’s almost entirely a footpath from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin at Baxter State Park in Maine.

“Even in the deep South like North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, the elevation is pretty high so they get pretty hard winters,” said Bob Sickley, trail resources manager for Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Mid-Atlantic Region. “But down there and this region (Mid-Atlantic) certainly gets used year-round with April to late October, especially in New England, being high season.”

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization that helps oversee the part of the trail that runs through Pennsylvania from Pen Mar near the Maryland border to the Delaware Water Gap near New York and New Jersey.

And for those looking to conquer a smaller part, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Boiling Springs introduced a series of events about three years ago that puts visitors’ feet on a part of the 2,189-mile terrain trail.

Third Thursday is a series of short, nature-inspired events to attract people to the trail, said Kelly McGinley, community outreach and program support administrator at the ATC Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

The events run the third Thursday of each month from April through October and are free to the public.

This year’s events include a Mountain Laurel & Native Wildflowers Hike, Nature’s Cardio Hike, Feed Your Soles Power Foods Hike, Find Your True North Yoga and Compass Reading Hike, Music & a Movie in the Park, and Phenology & Wildlife Habitat Hike.

“The goal is to engage people,” McGinley said. “We get a lot of feedback, and this year are having some 5- or 6-mile hikes in June and July — a little longer than we’ve usually done.”

The ATC kicked off its Third Thursday series in April with a Capturing Spring Photography hike led by professional photographers Linda Norman and Crystal Hunt, who taught participants how to capture nature photos during a 1.5-mile hike.

“We really want the events to be something everyone can participate in, and increase usage,” McGinley said.

Sickley said it’s “difficult to come up with a number of tourists” who visit the trail each year, but the National Park Service, which owns the land, conducted a survey about eight years ago that attempted to measure visitation.

Statisticians studied places where there were two welcome stations and launched the evaluation in about a 120-mile section of trail from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania.

“They came up with some numbers and came up with about 2 million visits — not visitors — a year,” Sickley said. “There are people who visit the trail multiple times.”

The trail normally doesn’t host events but has representatives who work with nearby towns to provide activities that promote the trail.

“Competitive events and fundraising events aren’t allowed on the trail, because the overlaying management philosophy is for hikers to have a primitive experience,” Sickley said. “But local towns where the trail runs through do host a lot of events that piggyback off of promoting the trail and work together that way.”

Some of the features along the trail that attract hikers are “must see” views that Sickley said include McAfee Knob in Virginia and the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock near Interstate 78 in Hamburg.

“Those are some iconic views you can only get along the trail and very popular with hikers,” he said.

And with hiking come safety tips. The ATC has a website devoted to hiker preparation and visitor centers that include the same kind of information, Sickley said.

He said some of the best advice he has is for hikers to familiarize themselves with the terrain and to know their limitations.

“Most hikers already know what they’re getting into, but we want everyone to prepare themselves the best way possible, and a lot of that information comes via Web outreach in this day and age,” Sickley said. “It can be a very rewarding experience, but it can also be dangerous.”