March 25, 2008

Alabama Touts Path to Appalachian Trail in Georgia
An Audio Story from NPR Morning Edition

Today, NPR Morning Edition covered the Pinhoti Trail dedication, and addressed the issue of connecting the Pinhoti to the Appalachian Trail. You can listen to the 3 minute, 57 second piece at the following link.

The transcript from the story is below. Enjoy!

Morning Edition, March 25, 2008 · If tourism officials in Alabama had their way, the southern end of the Appalachian Trail would be in their state. Their hopes are bound up in a natural path that connects the famous trail where it now officially ends in Georgia to the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama.

The conservationist Benton MacKaye in 1921 envisioned the Appalachian Trail as a refuge from the urban environs of the East Coast. Now, the Alabama Pinhoti trail meanders 115 miles to the Georgia border — ultimately to Springer Mountain, the original southern endpoint of the AT in Georgia.

Tom Cosby of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce says the original northern endpoint was in New Hampshire, but it was officially extended. The same, he says, could happen in Alabama.

Cosby says state officials haven't officially asked for the trail to be extended into Alabama, but they hope it will become sort of a de facto end and eventually be recognized.

Georgia officials at a state park near Springer Mountain say they have no position on the Alabama plan — which could siphon hikers and tourist dollars away. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has not taken an official stand, either, but Executive Director David Startzell says such a move would require an act of Congress.

"It would have to be an amendment to the National Trails System Act, which provides a fairly general description of the route of the trail, but it's detailed enough that clearly an extension into Alabama wouldn't fit the current definition," Startzell says.

The National Trails System Act of 1968 places the endpoints at Mount Katahdin, Maine, and Springer Mountain, so the wording would have to be changed. Regardless, the Alabama Pinhoti is there for the hiking. No matter what it's called, it is an uninterrupted path all the way to Maine.

Steve Chiotakis reports from member station WBHM in Birmingham.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2008

More Than Just a Long Walk in the Woods

Plaque Installed at Last Weeks Trail Dedication
Photo provided by Alabama Hiking Trail Society

This piece appeared in today's Anniston Star. It was written by Joe Cuhaj of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society.

The year 1925 was a historic time for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in this country. An article written by a U.S. Forest Service employee, "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning," was put into action. Benton MacKaye's vision was for a footpath that would travel the ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine, with an eventual extension into Alabama where the mighty mountains end.

Last Sunday, that dream was completed. More than 200 volunteers and elected officials gathered on a mountaintop in the Talladega National Forest to dedicate a bronze marker that commemorates the connection of Alabama and its Pinhoti Trail to the world-famous Appalachian Trail.

I was honored to be asked to present awards of recognition to those gathered who made the event possible; it was a humbling experience. As a kid growing up in New Jersey, the Appalachian Trail was just a stone's throw from my house. I was in awe of the many people who had made that world-famous trail possible. And here I was, standing with others who had just accomplished another part of this dream.

As the celebration continued, the media approached me with questions that made me pause: Will veteran hikers scoff at the extension and see it as a route not viable? Will the Pinhoti Trail lose its identity and eventually be sucked into the Appalachian Trail? How can you say the link to the Appalachian Trail is complete when there are road walks in the Georgia section? What can a footpath in the woods do for Alabama? And the one that took me aback — What's the big deal?

Just like any hobby or sport, there are purists. The Appalachian Trail runs from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine, and that's that. And honestly, that's what it will always be. No matter how many trails connect to the Appalachian Trail, that 2,000-mile long footpath will always be the Appalachian Trail.

Benton MacKaye's vision was for an "extension" into Alabama. This connection of the Pinhoti Trail to the Appalachian Trail facilitates MacKaye's plan. If through-hikers want to hike the complete length of the Appalachian range, they need to come to Alabama to do it. If they want the traditional Appalachian Trail experience, then they can start at Springer Mountain. The only thing that has changed is the option of where the hiker can start the trip.

I have heard the argument for years about the Pinhoti losing its identity. It usually comes from dedicated and well-meaning volunteers who sweat and toil to maintain the trail for all to enjoy. They believe that once the Pinhoti was connected to the Appalachian Trail, the Pinhoti would disappear forever; it would become the Appalachian Trail; it would lose its name. There could be nothing further from the truth.

Many trails connect to the Appalachian Trail — the Benton MacKaye, the Victoria, the Grafton Loop, to name only a few. These trails were all built for one reason or another; each is special in its own right. Perhaps there were spectacular views or maybe towering waterfalls. Whatever the reason for building those trails, they will always be there. Those trails maintain their name and what makes them special. That will never be taken away.

Road walks are another issue of which I've heard about, not only during the celebration this past weekend but also as I traveled the state promoting hiking and backpacking for the Alabama Hiking Trail Society. Some say that if a trail heads out of the woods and takes to the road for a distance, then it isn't complete and isn't a real trail. Again, these comments are from well-meaning people, but they are slightly misinformed.

The most famous long paths in the country include some road walks. The Appalachian Trail has some road walks. The Florida Trail from Key West to Pensacola has road walks. Unfortunately, with massive urban sprawl this is just a fact of life for long paths. We'd all love to see these trails be a complete walk in the woods, but that can never happen.

Yes, the Georgia section of the Pinhoti has road walks, but does that mean it's not a real trail and not really connected to the Appalachian Trail? If that's the case, then the Appalachian Trail doesn't really exist, either. I don't think the millions of people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail would agree.

There also is the question of what impact the trail and this connection will have on the state and the region. Dr. Doug Phillips, the host of Alabama Public Television's "Discovering Alabama", says that Alabama is the most biologically diverse area in the country. By far, the best way to see the wonders the state has to offer is on foot along one of its many footpaths, including the Pinhoti.

Tourism already is the second-largest industry in the state . This connection, combined with other ecotourism attractions such as the Bartram Canoe Trail in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and the statewide birding trail, means that Alabama is poised to take advantage of the booming ecotourism industry. In Florida, for example, ecotourism dollars rose from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $3 billion in 2006. By being ecologically responsible, Alabama can enjoy these tourism dollars and still maintain its ecological richness.

All of those questions were easy, but that last one threw me back. What's the big deal? It's a huge deal.

Yes, there will be an economic impact on the state, but it goes way beyond money. The connection provides not only an extension of the Appalachian Trail for long-distance hikers, but also the continuation of an Eastern seaboard greenway where wildlife is free to roam as it did not so long ago. Most important, the connection provides a myriad of opportunities for families to take to the woods for short day hikes and loop trips, where they can explore and create memories that will last a lifetime.

To the many elected officials who put the pieces together to create the Pinhoti Trail and the hundreds of volunteers who have built and maintained the Pinhoti Trail — starting with the Youth Conservation Corps to today's trail clubs — you have truly made history and have given Alabama a remarkable gift. Thank you.

Joe Cuhaj, vice president of publicity for the Alabama Hiking Trail Society, is the author of Hiking Alabama, Paddling Alabama, and Baseball in Mobile.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

January 06, 2008

"There is More Good in This World Than Evil"

"There is more good in this world than evil." Those are the words of the parents of missing hiker Meredith Emerson, on the morning after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that Meredith is likely dead after the discovery of some of her personal effects. Last night authorities announced that the "Person of Interest" Gary Michael Hilton was being charged with Kidnapping in her disappearance. You can read more about this in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

This will be my last blog entry about this sad case. My thoughts and prayers go out to Meredith's friends and family in this time of sorrow. The hiking community here in the southeast, and indeed, around the world has been saddened by this senseless act of brutality.

I will of course continue to hike, and I hope that all of you will too. I take solace in the wisdom of Meredith's parents words. In fact, I plan to take a hike today with my daughter Martha and savor the peace and serenity that the woods have to offer. I have plans to backpack 90 miles on the Florida Trail in just a few weeks, and further plans to backpack California's John Muir Trail this summer with my daughter. Those plans, of course, remain unchanged. The woods are my sanctuary from the craziness of this world, and will remain so.

As a reminder, I'll repost my suggestions for keeping safe in the woods and on the trails here;

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:54 AM | Comments (2)

January 05, 2008

Search Continues for Missing Georgia Hiker

Meredith Emerson was last seen hiking with her dog on
Blood Mountain in Georgia on New Year's Day.

Until now, I have purposely refrained from commenting on the story involving the the disappearance of Meredith Emerson. Meredith was last seen on New Years Day after going for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail near Blood Mountain. Having four daughters, and one about Meredith's age, my heart aches for her friends and family. When I learned about the search effort on Thursday, my inclination was to join in. I have led a number of hikes on the Appalachian and Freeman Trails around Blood Mountain, and know the area fairly well. I have parked in the lot where Meredith's car was found any number of times.

On Thursday night I had packed a bag and was ready to head to Blue Ridge, GA to stay at the home of a friend, George Owen. My plan was to join in the search on Friday morning. Before leaving home I called George to let him know I was coming. He was at home having just returned from Vogel State Park where the search for Meredith is being coordinated.

George informed me that he had spoken to one of the search coordinators while at the park, and that they were bringing in teams of dogs on Thursday night to search the area. It appeared that on Friday, only trained law enforcement officers would be permitted to join in the search. With that news, I decided to stay home, and stay out of the way. Yesterday, it was confirmed that volunteers were not being allowed to join in the search. Only members of official search and rescue teams.

Now it's Saturday. Last night a person of interest, or POI (as law enforcement refers to him) was located. This individual, Gary Michael Hilton, is currently in custody by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and is being questioned in the disappearance of Meredith. He was found with his white van at a gas station in DeKalb County, Georgia. The Atlanta Journal Constitution is showing a photo of the van parked beside an outdoor vacuum cleaner. Mr. Hilton was seen on the trail with Meredith on New Years Day, and Meredith's dog Ella was apparently playing with Hilton's dog Dandy.

In a bizarre twist to the story, Meredith's dog Ella was found Friday night when she walked into a Kroger supermarket in Cumming, Georgia. That is a good distance from Blood Mountain. If investigators know how she got there, they are not saying.

As I type this, Meredith's whereabouts are still unknown. We here at American Hiking Society hope that she will soon be found safe and reunited with her friends and family. This story raises some serious issues for the hiking community. The hiking community, and it is indeed a community, is close knit. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions and political persuasions, but our love of the outdoors unites us. The long distance hiking community, of which I am a member, is particularly close knit. Backpackers on the Appalachian Trail (in particular) really look out for one another. What does this incident teach us?

I hike alone frequently. Despite the disappearance of Meredith, hiking remains a healthy and relatively safe activity. Of course, there is always risk that something could happen to us when we go outside. We could turn an ankle, or fall on an icy trail, or get lost. We could also potentially run into an unsavory character. Let's face it. While the chances are slim, they are out there in our communities.

It would be very easy to watch CNN or the Today Show and decide that staying home on the couch is a better and safer option than going out and seeking the mountaintop. I believe that the 24 hour news cycle tends to frighten people. The facts remain however. Each year hundreds of thousands of people die of disease and illness related to inactivity and poor diet. While each year some high profile incidents occur on hiking trails, whether it is an animal attack, or an injured hiker, or an assault or murder on a trail, when you consider the sheer number of individuals who participate in hiking annually (tens of millions!), hiking remains a very safe activity.

That is not to say that we shouldn't take precautions when we go out into the woods. We always should. With that in mind, here is a list of common sense suggestions for keeping yourself safe in the woods;

Now it is time to turn our thoughts and prayers to Meredith Emerson and her family. After all, she is one of us.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:22 AM | Comments (1)

December 30, 2007

Playing ‘save the toes’: Stranded hiker returns to Maryville

This story is a follow-up to an earlier story appearing in the Daily Times.

From the Maryville, TN based Daily Times.

By Rick Laney
of The Daily Times Staff

Bert Emmerson is back home after being stranded in the Gila Wilderness Area of New Mexico above 10,000 feet during a four-day snowstorm.

Since arriving back in Maryville shortly before Christmas, he has been to hospitals and doctors’ offices regularly. Although Emmerson’s feet were badly frostbitten during the incident, he believes he will keep his toes.

Emmerson is calm and reflective as he describes his ordeal — a common characteristic of long-distance hikers who sometimes spend months alone on the trail. He is even casual as he pulls back his socks to reveal his ravaged feet that look more like they lost a battle with a lawn mower than the victims of frigid temperatures.

“I’m playing ‘save the toes’ right now,” Emmerson said. “It looks like I’ll get to keep them.

“It’s really amazing how much better they are now. The first night was very painful — like a severe burn.”

Until a few weeks ago, Emmerson was hiking the Continental Divide Trail, a 2,567-mile trail from Canada to Mexico that stretches through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. He started his journey at Glacier National Park in Montana on June 15 and has been hiking ever since. His plan was to reach the Mexico border and be home with his wife, Becky Emmerson, by Christmas.

Mixed blessing

While Emmerson did get to spend Christmas with his wife, the snowstorm kept him from completing the hike.

“It started snowing on Saturday, Dec. 8, and continued for the next four days,” Emmerson told The Daily Times during a telephone interview from New Mexico last week.

“I’m 5 feet 10 inches tall, and it got to where the tips of my mittens were dragging in the snow while I was walking.

“When my toes started to get numb, I got in my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. My socks were frozen to my toes, and I knew I was in big trouble.

“The next morning, my toes were black — so I tried to follow a route down through the Gila Wilderness Area to a road that I planned to hike out on.”

Temperatures were reportedly 10 to 20 degrees below zero in the mountains where Emmerson was during the storm. In a wilderness area where people die every year, many consider Emmerson fortunate to have made it out alive.

When he arrived at a stranger’s home in the ghost town of Mogollon, N.M., on Dec. 17, Emmerson’s wife was just hours away from asking the New Mexico Police to launch a full-scale search and rescue mission.

She wasn’t sure where her husband was, but she knew it was desolate, steep and remote. The Gila Wilderness Area covers 3.3 million acres of forest and rangeland and is the sixth largest National Forest in the United States. There are six peaks in the Mogollon Mountains — where Emmerson was at the time of the snow storm — with elevations between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. He had described the area during the last phone call with his wife as being “in the middle of nowhere.”

“I hadn’t talked to him for almost two weeks and I was starting to get worried,” Becky said last week. “There really aren’t many good maps of that area — and the Continental Divide Trail has so many alternate routes.

“I had been talking to the police and forest service people in New Mexico. The police were helpful, but they said it was a 7,000-square-mile area and you can’t really search it.”

Retirement goals

Four years ago, Emmerson retired from the Tennessee Farmers’ Co-Op in Rockford where he was a plant manager for 13 years and started working part-time at Little River Trading Co., in Maryville. Originally from Kansas, he moved to East Tennessee in 1978 while working for ConAgra Foods.

During his first year of retirement, Emmerson hiked the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The next year, he hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. He didn’t schedule any long-distance hikes for 2006, but started planning his Continental Divide Trail trek for 2007. On average, less than two dozen hikers attempt the six-month journey on the Continental Divide Trail each year.

When he completes the Continental Divide Trail, Emmerson will have finished all three of the major distance hikes in the U.S. — known in hiking circles as “The Triple Crown.”

Emmerson documents his hiking adventures with journal entries and photographs at

“I’ll definitely finish the Continental Divide Trail,” Emmerson said. “Probably in late April or early May.

“The north-bound hikers usually set out at the end of April from Mexico, so I could possibly hook up with some of them when they’re getting started.

“I don’t really have it all planned out yet, and I’m flexible — but I’ll do it.”

With 7,000 hiking miles already under his belt, there’s no reason to doubt him.

Editors Note: Welcome home Wildcat! We wish you continued improved health in the New Year, and look forward to hearing about your completion of the CDT! We also thank the Staff of The Daily Times for covering this story/ (JH)

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 01:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2007

John McCain- Hiker

Recently the Associated Press asked the Presidential candidates what they like to do on a lazy day. One of them - John McCain - responded by saying he likes to hike. Here are the candidate's comments;

"Probably hiking around a place we have up near Sedona. It's so beautiful up there in the Red Rock country, and we have a place that's on Oak Creek. ... and we have picnics. It's not just strenuous hiking. You know, it's just kind of a recreational outing." In August 2006, he and son Jack hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim — "which almost killed me and he thought was a day at the beach."

This is not an endorsement of any kind. In fact, American Hiking Society doesn't endorse candidates. It is simply a story in the news about a well known public figure who enjoys hiking.

Personally, I hope that all the candidates take some time to get out and hike! After all, hiking is a non-partisan activity.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2007

Hiking in Afghanistan:
A Soldier's Perspective

Yesterday I came across an online article in Stars & Stripes, a paper published for the US Military. The article talked about how hiking can be a regular part of the routine for a member of the US Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade. Of course, hiking in Afghanistan is nothing like hiking in the US. These soldiers not only have to negotiate steep terrain carrying as much as 100 pound! They also run the risk of encountering enemy fire along the way. My hat is off to these brave young men!

Below is the article as it appears online. This article is "Used with permission from Stars and Stripes. © 2007 Stars and Stripes."

Photo gallery: Afghan terrain tests soldiers' hiking skills

Afghan terrain tests soldiers' hiking skills

Rugged obstacles challenge troops from Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade
By Les Neuhaus, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, October 30, 2007

MANAGAI MARKESS, Afghanistan — There are worse places to be in a war than Afghanistan.

The wars in Iraq, Somalia and the western Sudanese region of Darfur, for example, are waged against backdrops that are both parched and apocalyptic.

But that is not the case with the northeastern corridor of Afghanistan, which stretches along the Pakistan border. An endless patchwork of jagged mountains in the east pushes ever northward into the famed Hindu Kush, just beyond the Khyber Pass, and is home to the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Parts of the brigade hike the trails of four provinces — Lagman, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Kunar — in search of al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. It’s a network that reaches deep into the hundreds of valleys and mountain peaks of this region.

Last week, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment descended a mountain peak well over 7,000 feet tall after spending six days encamped along a ridgeline.

They had been on the offensive against Taliban militants holed up in the Pech River Valley, which meanders and winds throughout the volatile Kunar province.

They had all of their gear, guns and ammo — and water. Each man’s backpack was between 60 to 100 pounds.

All the while they were in combat mode, as the “ex-filtration” of the operation involved searches and keeping on general alert.

The walk took the men of Company A, led by Capt. Louis Frketic, 29, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., more than 10 hours. By the end, everyone was exhausted, with some just barely able to finish, having run out of water by the end of the trail.

The blue sky exploded overhead with occasional 155 mm howitzer and 120 mm mortar shells pelting ridge peaks opposite of Company A’s torturous trails, which only seemed to grow more and more steep.

Throughout the day, U.S. Air Force F-15 jet fighters also screamed by, with a constant pitter-patter of helicopter blades swirling within earshot.

Negotiating the trails required teamwork from the troops. Communication was crucial between companies descending different mountain peaks at the end of an operation.

They rested when they came across local Afghan villagers. They exchanged traditional greetings but also peppered the Afghans with questions about the Taliban.

© 2007 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2007

Climbing Kilimanjaro:
An Account in the NY Times

A couple of months ago I had the honor of meeting Gerald Bigurube, Director General of Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA). He stopped by the offices of American Hiking Society to learn about our work with trails. After our meeting, Director general Bigurube extended an invitation to us to travel to his beautiful country. It's an opportunity I hope to someday accept. After hearing about climbing Kilimanjaro from a fellow thru-hiker (Hollywood Mike) on the Appalachian Trail in 2000, the thrill of standing high atop Africa on a frozen peak has remained alluring.

Today in the NY Times, and article by Tom Bissell entitled "Up the Mountain Slowly, Very Slowly" appears. This account of climbing the tallest peak in Africa is accompanied by a great multimedia presentation.


Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 12:03 PM

October 23, 2007

Appalachian Trail in the Classroom:
Nantahala Hiking Club coordinates a teacher training

Nantahala Hiking Club Physical Ed workshop.jpg

Click on above image to launch a PDF of this article (3 MB)

Following up on their successes from last spring, the Nantahala Hiking Club has completed another workshop to introduce hiking to classroom teachers. This project known as A Trail to Every Classroom is a joint project of the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and their local trail and community partners. American Hiking Society supported this local effort with a National Trails Fund grant.

To learn more about this effort, you can visit the National Park Service's Trail to Every Classroom website. You can also click on the image above to launch a PDF version of an article that recently appeared in the Franklin Press.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 04:24 PM

October 22, 2007

Trekking across N.C., one weekend at a time

On Friday I found an article in the Charlotte Observer about two friends who are section hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail. I thought some of you might enjoy reading about this great trail. Enjoy!

Trekking across N.C., one weekend at a time
Pals have started hiking the Mountains to the Sea Trail

Reprinted by Permission

After three weekends and 85 miles in the wilderness, Frank Potter and Jim Walters have some tales to tell.

They've slept atop boulders, nursed sore muscles and trudged through the dark by the light of a mining helmet. Then there was "the angel in the pickup truck" who helped them out of a jam -- more about that later.

Potter is 65 and Walters is 62, and they are hiking the Mountains to the Sea Trail, a rugged route that stretches more than 930 miles across the state.

"Most people say, `You're doing what? And why?' " Potter said. "I say, `I don't know. But we've gone beyond that stopping point. We can't stop now.' "

The men, who live in south Charlotte, have both hiked before; Potter as an Eagle Scout, Walters with his daughter when she was growing up.

Walters, who is retired from Bank of America and now runs an online golf merchandise business, decided to hike this trail after reading "A Walk in the Woods," by Bill Bryson, about "two old guys hiking the Appalachian Trail," he said.

Potter, a longtime general manager at Brodt Music Co., agreed to come along a few months ago.

The pair raided their attics and their children's homes for supplies. Walters prepared by walking on his treadmill with his backpack.

The men decided to hike on the weekends only, and they set a timeline: "I've got to do this in two years, because I'm getting old," Potter said.

The Mountains to the Sea Trail, created in 1973, runs from Clingman's Dome near the N.C.-Tennessee border to Jockey's Ridge State Park.

The route gained popularity in the 1990s after a guide book was published, said Jeff Brewer, president of Friends of the Mountains to the Sea Trail.

Still, just 12 people have finished it since 1997, he said.

"It's pretty strenuous," Brewer said. "It's definitely not a cakewalk."

Potter and Walters set off one Saturday in early July for Clingman's Dome, driving two cars and parking them at the beginning and end of the section of trail they planned to hike. They quickly learned that the hike wouldn't be easy.

"I thought the first half-mile was going to kill us," Walters said.

The next day, the two were so sore they could barely lift their legs.

"If someone came up and got me, I'd quit," Walters thought at one point. "Then I realized that the only way I'm going to get out of here is to hike."

The pair emerged from the woods late that afternoon and embarked on their second hike later that month.

Potter and Walters were in high spirits until their third trip.

The men started on a Saturday in August on a narrow trail, moving at a rate of less than a mile an hour.

They ran low on water. And then it got dark. For about 1 1/2 hours, Walters lighted the way with a miner's helmet.

Potter and Walters finally reached their campsite and fell asleep -- only to wake up a few hours later to find their tent sliding off the rock where they'd pitched it.

It got worse. The next day, after hiking six hours through the Nantahala National Forest, the pair realized they hadn't seen a trail marker in awhile. They were lost.

Potter and Walters eventually came to a gravel road. An old man in a pickup pulled up, and they offered him $20 to take them back the way they came.

The man agreed to drive them for $30. The ride took 1 1/2 hours. Potter and Walters gave their new friend $40 and nicknamed him the "angel in the pickup truck."

"We would have still been lost if it wasn't for him," Walters said.

Later this month, the pair will try again, picking up where they left off for a 32-mile hike. Walters has invested in a GPS and mapping software, he said.

There have been a few complaints along the way, including some half-joking gripes about dull conversations and each other's snoring.

But the trail will get easier as the men trek east, and friends and family along the way have offered to help and even hike with them.

"Our friends are going to throw us a party if we get halfway through," Walters said.

He and Potter know it's about more than that, though.

"Just to take on a challenge of something that's physically hard, mentally hard and a lot of planning," Walters said. "Just to say you've done it."

And anyway, they've started, they say. There's no stopping now.

Mountains to the Sea Trail

• Started in 1973 under the N.C. Trails System Act.

• Stretches 934.5 miles across the state, from Clingman's Dome in Great Smokey Mountains National Park to Jockey's Ridge State Park, winds through 37 counties on footpaths, roads and state bike routes.

• Still under construction. Friends of the Mountains to the Sea Trail plans to build a complete foot trail across the state. The group has built 485 miles and has about 450 to go.

• More details:

• Details about Frank Potter and Jim Walters' trip:

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:20 AM

October 19, 2007

Autistic Hiker Released from Hospital


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An autistic teen who was lost for four days in the West Virginia wilderness was released from a hospital Friday, a day after his rescue from the rugged, foliage-filled terrain.

Jacob Allen's sister, Brittany, waved to onlookers as he was rolled out of Davis Memorial Hospital in a wheelchair. The 18-year-old was given a clean bill of health by the doctors who examined him, said Chris Stadelman, a spokesman for the search effort.

What happened to Allen during his four days in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in the Monongahela National Forest may never be known. Allen does not speak, and uses body language and pictures to communicate with his family.

From what rescue crews have been able to piece together, Allen didn't stray too far from where his parents lost sight of him Sunday while hiking the Boar's Nest Trail in the Randolph County section of the wilderness area.

He was found — hungry and thirsty but otherwise in good shape — on Thursday afternoon. He was curled up asleep, beneath the protective canopy of a rhododendron.

"The most frustrating thing, given how well this went, is that we don't have any idea and probably won't have any idea" about where he went or what he did, said Stadelman. "Ultimately we don't care if we know where he was because we know where he is. That's home."

Searchers feared for his safety during the time he was lost because of the cold. Overnight temperatures dropped to as low as 38 degrees the first night Allen was in the woods, wearing only a wind jacket and wind pants over his T-shirt and hiking boots. But as the days wore on, temperatures slowly began to rise.

"Every day, it just got warmer and warmer and warmer," Karen Allen told NBC's "Today" show on Friday morning. "It was like God breathed some warm breath on us here in the mountains."

Authorities don't believe he ate anything during his ordeal, and his mother said he was alert and hungry after his rescue. He ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he was even out of the woods Thursday, she said.

Later that night in the hospital, he wolfed down some broth and Jell-O, said Stadelman. Before he was released, Allen also had eaten chicken and french fries, french toast, bacon, oatmeal and three servings of ice cream, he said.

Associated Press writers Tom Breen, April Vitello and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, all in Charleston, and Vicki Smith in Morgantown contributed to this report.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:27 PM

Today Show Interview with Autistic Hiker's Family and his Rescuer

Matt Lauer of the Today Show interviewed Jacob Allen's mother, brother and sister, along with the man who found him - Jeremy Reneau. You can view the 5 minute interview at the link below, but unfortunately, you'll have to endure a commercial in order to reach the interview. Sorry about that. That's NBC's doing.

Family of autistic teen recall his rescue
Family of autistic teen recall his rescue

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:08 AM

AP: Autistic Hiker Found Alive in W.Va.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An autistic 18-year-old lost in the wilderness for four days was found sleeping under a bush Thursday, weak but apparently fine, and reunited with his family, searchers said.

"To the best of our knowledge, he was just hungry and thirsty and fatigued," Jim Reneau, one of the nine searchers who found Jacob Allen, said at a news conference at the command post near Davis, about 150 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Allen, who wandered away from his parents while hiking Sunday, was found lying in a clearing about a mile from where his hat was found Monday.

Allen, who has the mental capacity of a 3- or 4-year-old, opened his eyes and rolled over to meet his rescuers when Reneau's son, Jeremy Reneau, called out his name.

"He was very quiet, he was nonverbal," said Jeremy Reneau, 25, the first to spot Allen. "But you could tell by his body language he was hungry."

Rescuers fed him candy bars and peanut butter sandwiches and tried to walk him out of the wooded Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, part of the Monongahela National Forest. When he became too tired, they carried him out on a litter, Reneau said.

"The family is all together," search group spokesman Chris Stadelman said. "As soon as they heard the report he was alive and doing fairly well, they gathered in a prayer circle."

Allen was in good condition Thursday night at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins, where he was to be kept overnight for observation, hospital spokesman Bill Phillips said.

"I think the whole state's relieved," said Lara Ramsburg, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin, who visited the Allen family Wednesday night. "We're all relieved for him and his family."

Allen wandered away from his parents Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of volunteers and trained professionals had been combing the woods, calling for him to come to them for candy bars, ice cream and other food.

Allen had no food or water with him, but Stadelman had said there were natural water sources in the search area, which consists of about 10 square miles of often steep and brush-covered terrain.

Overnight temperatures dropped to as low as 38 degrees on the nights Allen was missing. He was wearing hiking boots, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a wind jacket and wind pants.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 12:32 AM

October 18, 2007

CNN: Autistic Hiker Found Alive After 4 Days

Breaking News:

Great news that we hope is accurate. CNN is reporting that a spokesman for the Search & Rescue operation has informed the Associated Press that the missing hiker has been found alive. Stay tuned for more developments as they emerge.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 05:17 PM

Search Continues for Autistic Hiker

DAVIS, W.Va. (AP) — A severely autistic hiker was not expected to shy away from strangers calling his name as they searched the dense woods for a fourth day, a spokesman for the rescue effort said Wednesday.

More than 300 people, volunteers as well as trained professionals, trudged through the rugged terrain of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, shouting for 18-year-old Jacob Allen, or "Jake," to come to them to get ice cream, candy bars and other food.

"He has no fear of strangers," search spokesman Chris Stadelman said.

As night fell, the volunteers went home and were replaced by about 15 seasoned professionals skilled in night searches.

The family and the rescuers remained confident Allen would be found. "We're planning to find him tonight," Stadelman said. There were no plans to scale back the rescue effort, he said.

Gov. Joe Manchin visited the Allen family Wednesday evening and pledged the state's resources to help find the teen, spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said.

Allen's sister earlier told CNN the family worries that Jacob, who uses pictures to communicate with his family, isn't able to respond when called to.

"That is our biggest concern, that someone calls for him and he cannot say, 'I'm here,' you know, 'Help me,'" said Brittany Allen.

Jacob Allen wandered away from his parents Sunday afternoon while hiking on the Boar's Nest Trail in the Monongahela National Forest.

He had no food or water with him, but Stadelman said there are natural water sources in the search area, which consists of about 10 square miles of often steep and brush-covered terrain.

Though overnight temperatures have dropped to as low as 38 degrees since Jacob Allen got lost, hypothermia is not a concern as long as he stays dry, Stadelman said. Some parts of the region got rain Tuesday night, but the search area remained dry, Stadelman said.

Allen was wearing hiking boots, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a wind jacket and wind pants.

Editorial Note: Here at American Hiking Society, we send out our thoughts and prayers to Jacob and his family, and hope that a happy ending will occur in the very near future. To learn more about autism from an autistic hiker, you can listen to a 26-minute interview with Jeff Smith.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 03:10 PM

Our Work: American Hiking Society on Capitol Hill

Meeting with Zack Wamp 10-16-2007.jpg
Jeffrey Hunter (L) meeting with US Congressman Zach Wamp

On Tuesday October 16, Jeffrey Hunter was on Capitol Hill to meet with Staffers from the offices of US Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. While there, he also met with US Congressman Zach Wamp to discuss the childhood obesity epidemic, and how hiking can address this very serious issue. Congressman Wamp recently introduced the FIT Kids Act (H.R. 3257), which seeks to integrate regular physical education into the No Child Left Behind Act.

If you find our work inspiring, please support our work by joining American Hiking Society. Thank you!

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:20 AM

October 16, 2007

Friend to Hikers and Appalachian Trail Mourned

Miss Tilly on the porch of her cabin
Photo by Ruth Babylon of Virginia Outdoors Foundation
Used by permission

Matilda "Miss Tillie" King Wood 1918-2007

Next year Appalachian Trail hikers will miss a twenty-year tradition, hot biscuits at Wood's Hole Hostel at the head of Sugar Run Valley, Virginia, cooked by Tillie Wood. Tillie passed away on Sunday, October 14, 2007. Matilda King was born February 27, 1918 in Adalee, Oklahoma, the first child of Carl Lomas King of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Mary Smith King of Winslow, Arkansas. Her education began in a one-room school for Cherokee Indians. At her mother's insistence, the family, including her younger brother, Ben, and sister, Tinky, moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas for a better education. Tillie worked her way through the University of Arkansas where she met Roy K. Wood of Augusta, Arkansas. After Tillie graduated with a Master's in Biology, she married Roy and moved to Sugar Run, Virginia where her husband was studying an elk herd for his Master's thesis in Wildlife Conservation. They spent the first year of their marriage in a hand-hewn chestnut log cabin, with a fireplace for heat and a creek for water. They later bought the cabin which is now the Wood's Hole Hostel. Roy went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta, and Tillie moved into an old farm house on Woodstock Road outside of Roswell, Ga. There, Tillie raised her three children, Mary Jo, Ben, and Jere. Tillie taught school; started the first kindergarten in Roswell, which grew to become High Meadows School; organized the first Girl Scout troop; helped organize the Roswell Historical Society; served as president of the Women's Club; traveled with Jimmy Carter and the "Peanut Brigade" to New Hampshire and other states in his Presidential Campaign; was a real estate agent; knitted and gave hundreds of sweaters and dolls to local hospitals for newborns; operated a hostel on the Appalachian Trail; and was involved in establishing many of the institutions that form the foundation for the City of Roswell. Tillie was most proud of the successes of her children and grandchildren. Tillie's husband, Roy Kellum Wood, and her brother, General Benjamin Hardin King, USAF, predeceased her. She is survived by her sister, Dorothy Mills of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; her children, Dr. Mary Jo Harris Osteen, D.V.M., of Ball Ground, Georgia; Benjamin Travis Wood, AIA, of Shanghai, China; and the Honorable Jere Wood, Mayor of Roswell; and her grandchildren, Jere Harris Metcalf, Neville Harris, Amy Wood, and Roy Travis Wood. Tillie's love will be missed by many. The memorial service for Matilda King Wood will be Wednesday, October 17, at 2:00 PM in the Roswell Presbyterian Church, 755 Mimosa Blvd., followed by a reception in the Courtyard Room of the Church. The Reverend Dr. Lane Alderman, assisted by The Reverend Richard Hill and The Reverend Margaret Turney-Ayer, will preside. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell, Georgia 30075.

Editorial Note: Miss Tilly will be dearly missed by the hiking community. Here at American Hiking Society, we thank her and her family for the lasting legacy that they have left in the form of a conservation easement on the property around the cabin.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 01:53 PM

Flashback 1990: Blind Hiker Completes an 8 Month Journey

Nearly 17 years ago, Bill Irwin and his guide dog Orient completed their hike of the Appalachian Trail. To read about this remarkable feat, please visit the link below. It contains the NY Times story on Bill's hike from November 22, 1990.

Blind Hiker Completes an 8-Month Journey

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:58 AM

AP: Crews search for Autistic Hiker


Crews Search for Autistic Hiker


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Crews combed rugged terrain early Tuesday in the hopes of finding an 18-year-old autistic hiker who wandered away from his parents.

For a second night, temperatures dropped to around 40 degrees in the region where 18-year-old Jacob Allen is believed missing.

When he disappeared two days ago, Allen had no food or water with him. He was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, wind jacket, wind pants and hiking boots in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, said Chris Stadelman, the search group's spokesman.

Emergency responders and volunteers found his hat Monday, near where he had last been seen Sunday afternoon.

Search crews are focusing on 10 square miles of often rugged, steep and brush-covered terrain in the Randolph County section of the wilderness area, which is in the Monongahela National Forest.

"Some of it is back country where it's so thick you can't see five feet in front of you in the daylight," Stadelman said.

About 45 people searched overnight Monday, deliberately lighting campfires to make themselves visible in case Allen was nearby. More than 100 searchers were expected to help in the effort Tuesday, and dogs and helicopters also were being used.

Allen wandered ahead Sunday afternoon while hiking with his parents, Jim and Karen Allen of Morgantown. He didn't answer when they called his name, Stadelman said.

While Allen is described as severely autistic by his mother, Stadelman said, he is in good physical shape and likes to hike.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:50 AM

October 14, 2007

20,000 Days Down the Road, a Night on the Path

I haven't been purchasing the print edition of the Sunday NY Times very often lately. At $5, it's a lot of money to pay for a newspaper. With a mountain of laundry to do today in prep for 9 days of business travel, I broke down and picked it up.

After reading all the regular sections of the paper that draw my attention (Front Section, Week in Review, Sports, Magazine, Arts & Leisure, and Book Review), an article caught my eye that nearly slipped by. Entitled '20,000 Days Down the Road, a Night on the Path', this article tells the tale of an elderly New Hampshire couple, Jim and Eleanor McQueen, who in their early 80s after 55 years together decide to take a hike and end up spending the night outdoors.

Although the story has a happy ending, it could just as easily ended in tragedy. If you plan to head out in the woods for an hour or six hours, you should have certain things with you at all times.

For a full listing of the 10 Essentials to carry in your backpack, click here to download the American Hiking Society Hike Checklist. Or, you can email Jeffrey Hunter and request a copy be sent to you.

Have fun out there on the trails, but please, be careful!

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 05:12 PM

October 12, 2007

Mountains-to-Sea Trail segment to be dedicated

From the Asheville Citizen Times

Partners in the development of the 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail will dedicate a 15.1-mile segment near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Ashe and Alleghany counties Saturday.

The trail segment stretches along the corridor of the Blue Ridge Parkway between N.C. 16 and U.S. 18. The trail’s construction was a joint effort of the North Ashe County Task Force, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the National Park Service and the State Trails Program of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

“Our division and its partners are committed to the completion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the west to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the coast,” said Lewis Ledford, director of the state parks system. “And the vision is being realized through successes such as the completion of this important trail segment.”

Martha Bogle, deputy superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said: “Without the tireless dedication of the volunteer community and support of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, this fine hiking opportunity would not be available. The National Park Service looks forward to the continued opportunity to partner in providing this recreational trail to the residents and visitors in western North Carolina.”

Construction of this Blue Ridge Parkway segment received a boost when the American Hiking Society organized crews to help through its Volunteer Vacation Program. Volunteers from as far away as Wisconsin and Florida arrived for a concentrated session of trail building in September 2006.

The dedication will be held at 1 p.m. at the Sheets Gap Overlook at Parkway Milepost 252, about 4.7 miles south of the parkway’s intersection with N.C. 18. Attendees are invited to bring a picnic lunch at noon and a short 1.2-mile hike is offered at 2 p.m.

Organizers have also invited the public to participate in a hike of the entire segment beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday. To register, contact Allen de Hart at (919) 496-4771 or

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 12:11 PM

October 04, 2007

Benton MacKaye Trail Featured in NY Times

BMT Smoky Mtn view.jpg

View of the Great Smoky Mountains along the Benton MacKaye Trail

In the Friday October 5 edition of the NY Times in the Escapes section, an article entitled "Appalachia's Other Trail" appears. This article profiles the 290-mile long Benton MacKaye Trail, and the folks who made it possible.

To view this article, please visit the link below. Enjoy!

Appalachia's Other Trail - NY Times - 10/5/2007

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:46 PM

September 29, 2007

Voice of America:
Hikers, Bikers Reach for Agreement on Continental Divide Trail

Click on image above to launch a high resolution PDF file

Hikers, Bikers Reach for Agreement on Continental Divide Trail
By Brian Larson for Voice of America
Breckenridge, Colorado
17 September 2007

Listen to Larson report — Download 1MB (mp3) audio clip

America's national parks and forests belong to the people, and are managed by government agencies. When managers want to make changes, the owners get to have their say, and they often say it loudly and forcefully. That's the case with proposed changes along the 5000-kilometer Continental Divide Trail, which stretches from Canada to the border of Mexico, along the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

Breckenridge, Colorado, is near the mid-point of the trail. The resort town is probably best known for its spacious runs and deep powder during ski season, but people also flock here for another form of downhill recreation.

"For us, mountain biking is one of the main summer attractions," says Heide Andersen, an Open Space and Trails Planner for the town. "You know, it's a part of our local economy. It's one of the reasons that people are attracted to Breckenridge." She explains that the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is the backbone of the local trail system, because it's the only scenic trail in the national park system accessible to mountain bikers.

From a narrow dirt path through forested areas of lodgepole pine to wide open vistas and rocky cliffs above timberline, the CDT is a combination of small roads and dedicated trails through some of the most visually stunning parts of the Rocky Mountains. But there are uncompleted sections, and Deputy Regional Forester Richard Stem is in charge of closing those gaps. "We're at various stations of completion right now, depending upon what state you're in. We've been trying to ramp that up in the last three years to try to get that thing completed all the way from Montana to the bottom of New Mexico."

Stem is also charged with determining who may use what was originally intended as a trail for just hikers and horseback riders. "For instance, in Wyoming, … you have people with four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks going down the Continental Divide Trail and then hikers with backpacks and then horses, and they all meet. Those are the kind of conflicts that we've got going on right now." He says, no one could have foreseen the growing popularity of mountain biking when the trail was established in 1978.

Bicycling and Trail Biking were listed as allowable activities on designated sections of the trail in its 1985 Comprehensive Plan. But the new Forest Service proposal uses the words prohibitions and restrictions to describe mountain biking, and says actions that would promote or increase bike use should not occur.

That has mountain bikers like Mark Eller on the defensive. "Why would there be specific language pointing out mountain biking as a non-preferred use unless you were being thought of as a second-class citizen?" he asks.

Eller is Communications Director for the Boulder-based International Mountain Bicycling Association. He acknowledges that some riders ignore trail etiquette (by going too fast or not dismounting when horses go by), but he insists that's not enough of a reason to be singled out. "We think foot and horse travel are great," he says, and allows that there are sections where bikes don't need to be, "but for a vast majority of the trail, shared use philosophy is working out great and we'd hate to see a directive adopted that limits or curtails that access."

But access to the CDT is limited in ways that have nothing to do with philosophy. Nearly three decades after it was established "for the scenic enjoyment of those using it," only 70 percent of the five-state trail is done.

The Continental Divide Trail Alliance is the main non-governmental partner assisting the Forest Service with the trail's management and completion. Co-founder Paula Ward says compromises will have to be made at all levels to complete the trail. "There are a lot of people who enjoy that activity [biking] and there's a lot of it on the Continental Divide Trail," she points out. "Its just a matter of let's make a decision as to whether mountain biking is appropriate or not, and if it is appropriate, where is it appropriate?"

Back in Breckenridge, community leaders have written a letter to the Forest Service expressing their concerns over the proposal. Still, Heide Andersen believes it's unlikely that any changes would lead to restrictions near Breckenridge, where the trail is already completed.

"There is some animosity between hikers and mountain bikers," she admits, "and I think that there is a group of people out there that would like to see mountain bike use restricted on this trail. And we just want to be sure that they look very carefully at that, and if they are restricted or separated, that it's for good reasons."

The final say on any Forest Service directive affecting mountain biking along the Continental Divide Trail will come from Richard Stem. And he's quick to point out that the proposal at this stage is just a draft. "The worst thing we can do is make those directives so tight that it creates a very dumb situation on the ground," he says, but adds, "on the other hand, we don't want it all just kind of willy-nilly everywhere based on where people want to go, anytime, anyplace."

All parties are talking, and the Forest Service is also taking public comment on the proposal through October 12th. Stem believes they can find a solution that everyone will be happy with.

To learn more about, or to comment on the US Forest Service proposed directive for the Continental Divide Trail, please visit the US Forest Service website.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:07 AM

Jenna Bush's Boyfriend Proposed on Hike

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine

Like her mom, First Lady Laura Bush, it looks like Jenna enjoys hiking too. The AP just reported that Jenna's boyfriend proposed to her after an early morning hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Congratulations Jenna!

Here's a link to the full AP Story.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:13 AM

September 05, 2007

NY Times: No More Privies, So Hikers Add a Carry-Along

Mt Whitney - view from summit.jpg
View from near the summit of Mt. Whitney - Photo by Jeffrey Hunter

In August 2006 I had the extreme pleasure of hiking the 221-mile John Muir Trail in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. I was joined on this journey by my good friend Jeff Brewer of the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Along the way, we encountered no privies or shelters. On the final evening before we climbed Mt Whitney, which at 14,497 feet is the highest point in the lower 48, a National Park Service Ranger gave us each a WAG bag so we could pack out any human waste from this heavily used area. WAG bags are now required to be carried and used by hikers who climb Mt. Whitney.

Today, the NY Times has a feature story about the elimination of privies on Mt. Whitney. You can read the story at the link below below, and view a 7 minute 31 second video from the NY Times here. Enjoy!

Permalink to No More Privies, So Hikers Add a Carry-Along by Felicity Barringer

Mt Whiney Structure.jpg
The hut atop Mt. Whitney. Photo by Jeffrey Hunter

Solar privy.jpg
This privy on the Mt. Whitney Trail was removed in spring 2007
Photo by Jeff Brewer

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 07:59 AM

June 15, 2007

Colin Fletcher: Author, Hiker dies at 85

Colin Fletcher began his epic travelogue, The Man Who Walked Through Time, with a brief disclaimer, explaining his curious habit of walking long distances to readers who he felt needed this sort of explanation. This was 1967, when backpacking itself needed extensive explanation. Before many Americans even had a context in which to fit Fletcher’s rich, meditative work. When the question, “You walked from here to where?” was a good deal more common than it might be these days.

Today, although many Americans still look with wonder and surprise at those who explore our beautiful country on foot, we at American Hiking Society have the luxury of pursuing our mission to protect foot trails and promote the hiking experience in a country where 70 million Americans took to the trails last year. More than ever before, we recognize that the health, economic, social and environmental benefits that are enjoyed by millions of Americans, are due in no small part, to the inspiring, earthy and awe-filled writings of Colin Fletcher. American Hiking Society mourns the loss of this pioneer and celebrates his life in profound gratitude of his example as a life led as a hiker, an activist and an artist par excellence.

The above was submitted by Seth Levy. Seth is the Manager of American Hiking Society's Western Public Lands Initiative.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 03:55 PM

April 29, 2007

Attacked by a Grizzly - Part 1

This story appeared in the Los Angeles Times today. While your chance of encountering a Grizzly Bear whiile hiking in the Western US is small, it is a possibility. This article will be followed by a couple of blog entries that will instruct you how to avoid an encounter with a bear while hiking.


A hike into horror and an act of courage
A California man visiting Glacier National Park with his daughter instinctively puts himself between her and the rampaging bear's claws and teeth.

By Thomas Curwen, Times Staff Writer
April 29, 2007
"Copyright, 2007, Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission."

Glacier National Park, Mont. — JOHAN looked up. Jenna was running toward him. She had yelled something, he wasn't sure what. Then he saw it. The open mouth, the tongue, the teeth, the flattened ears. Jenna ran right past him, and it struck him — a flash of fur, two jumps, 400 pounds of lightning.

It was a grizzly, and it had him by his left thigh. His mind started racing — to Jenna, to the trip, to fighting, to escaping. The bear jerked him back and forth like a rag doll, but he remembered no pain, just disbelief. It bit into him again and again, its jaw like a sharp vise stopping at nothing until teeth hit bone. Then came the claws, rising like shiny knife blades, long and stark.

Johan and Jenna had been on the trail little more than an hour. They had just followed a series of switchbacks above Grinnell Lake and were on a narrow ledge cut into a cliff. It was an easy ascent, rocky and just slightly muddy from yesterday's rain.

Continue reading "Attacked by a Grizzly - Part 1"

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:42 AM

April 26, 2007

Hiking and learning with the Visually Impaired
at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden

paola in greenhouse.JPG

Horticulturist Paola Zannini shows the students how plants are propagated

On Wednesday April 25, American Hiking Society participated in a field trip for 17 visually impaired students at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden here in Chattanooga. This is the third field trip that American Hiking Society has assisted the Hamilton County Department of Education's office of Visual Disabilities with.

In addition to the field trip where students learned about native plants, took a short hike, planted some rare American Chestnuts seedlings, and ground was broken for a brand new Garden of the Senses. All in all, it was an exciting and uplifting day.

To listen to a 4 minute 11 second interview with two students, along with Reflection Riding Board President Michael Green and Reflection Riding Executive Director Dave Hopkins, please click on this link. (1.94 MB)

To launch a one minute 47 second video that appeared on the Chattanooga CBS affiliate News Channel 12, please click here.


Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 01:21 PM

April 17, 2007

American Hiking Society on
90.7 WFAE in Charlotte, NC

On Monday April 16, American Hiking Society's work in the southeast was profiled in a 1-hour interview on the Charlotte NPR affiliate 90.7 WFAE. Jeff Brewer of the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail, American Hiking Society Ambassador Bill Gupton, and me - Jeffrey Hunter - had a lively discussion with Charlotte Talks host Mike Collins.

To listen to this interview, please visit the Charlotte Talks audio archive. Scroll down until you find the April 16 program entitled Great Southeastern Hiking Festival, and click on the LISTEN icon to launch this 55 minute interview. This interview should be available online for 60 days.


Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:12 AM

April 05, 2007

Rock Mining Threatens Cumberland Trail

Rock Creek cascade.jpg

A cascade along the Cumberland Trail - just north of where
the rock removal is taking place. Photo by Jeffrey Hunter

Judge denies rock mining injunction
Temporary restrictions will keep equipment of miners 50 feet from Cumberland Trail.

By Pam Sohn Staff Writer - Chattanooga Times Free Press

A Hamilton County chancellor on Wednesday ordered rock miners not to use mechanized or motorized machines to extract mountain stone from the Cumberland Trail State Park within 50 feet of the Cumberland Trail.

But Cumberland Trail Executive Director Paul Freeman remains concerned that the very steep terrain along most of the trail where it traverses the side of Walden’s Ridge above Soddy-Daisy means any mining above the trail will make hiking there a liability.

“If this were on flat plain, it would probably be OK, but this is a very steep area,” Mr. Freeman said. “If a rock gets away, it can travel 1,000 feet. If they are doing anything above the trail, it will be hard to keep the public safe.”

In the ruling, Chancellor Frank Brown denied the state’s request to order a stop on all rock mining on state property in the 300-mile-long park. Park lands extend varying distances from the trail, ranging from a few feet in some areas to many acres in others. State officials sought the injunction after trail walkers in January reported a 70-to-100-yard section of the trail torn up by a rock mining operation for Florida-based Lahiere/Hill Partnership.

But the chancellor did create what he called “a limited temporary injunction.”

Harvesters may not extract rock “by any means” within 25 feet of the nearest edge of the hiking trail, and they may not use any mechanized or motorized machinery to harvest rock between 25 and 50 feet from the nearest edge of the hiking trail.

“However, they may obtain rock by manual means, i.e. break rock by a sledgehammer or other hand tool, pick up loose rocks, and transport the stone by hand, wheelbarrow or carts to trucks located more than 50 feet from the area nearest the Cumberland Trail,” the ruling states.

Chancellor Brown’s ruling Wednesday was not intended to address other issues in the growing rock mining debate, including whether Tennessee mountain stone — used on many area buildings, walls and walkways — is considered a rock or a mineral.

Tennessee now has conflicting laws and state attorney general rulings. The state does not regulate the operations as mining, but the Department of Revenue allows counties to tax the stone as a mined product.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which manages state parks, said the department will continue to work with the Tennessee Attorney General’s office “to pursue a permanent solution.”

“We believe the intent of the temporary injunction ruling was to allow the activity, but in a safe manner,” she said. “We are certainly hopeful that will be the case and the trail can be reopened.”

Sharon Curtis-Flair, spokeswoman for the Tennessee attorney general’s office, said attorneys would review the opinion before making a decision on future legal action.

The mineral rights owner, Elmer Hill of Florida, and the mining contractor, Marty Daggett, of Pikeville, Tenn., could not be reached for comment.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:20 AM

March 12, 2007

Gatlinburg, Tennessee Hosts First Listening Session on $3 Billion National Park Centennial Initiative


The first listening session on the National Park
Centennial Initiative will be in eastern Tennessee, in the
area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. NPS Photo

I received the following Media Advisory this morning. This should be of interest to all hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. If you can clear your schedule, attend these meetings, and let your voice be heard in support of our National Parks and our trails, that would be great! If you can't make one of these meetings in-person, you can submit written comments at the link below.

Additional listening sessions are planned throughout the country, including the following cites;

Anchorage, Alaska (March 14); St. Louis, Mo., and Boston, Mass. (March 15); San Antonio, Texas, New York City and Seattle, Wash. (March 20); Denver, Colo. and San Juan, Puerto Rico (March 21); San Francisco, Calif. and Miami, Fla. (March 22); Cleveland, Ohio (March 26); Albuquerque, N.M., Atlanta, Ga. (March 27); Washington, D.C. (March 28); and Los Angeles, Calif. (March 29). Venues and additional sessions will be announced at a future date. Please visit The Department of the Interior website for the most up to date information about these public meetings.

Here is the DOI Media Advisory:

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, March 13, 2007, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar will host a listening session in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to seek suggestions and ideas on President Bush’s $3 billion National Park Centennial Initiative.

The session, which will be at the Gatlinburg Convention Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., is the first in a series that will be held around the country in the next three weeks. The President’s proposal would provide significant new public and private investment during the next 10 years to reinvigorate and strengthen national parks by the National Park Service’s 100th birthday in 2016.

“These sessions are a great opportunity to think big and act boldly to develop a plan to prepare national parks for the future," Secretary Kempthorne said. From the discussions, Kempthorne and Bomar will identify signature projects and programs, set specific performance goals and report to the President by May 31. The public also may comment on the National Park Centennial Initiative from March 12 through March 31 online at the following site:

WHO: Interior Secretary Kempthorne, NPS Director Mary Bomar and NPS
Southeast Regional Director Patricia Hooks
WHAT: Listening Session on National Park Centennial Initiative
WHEN: Tuesday, March 13, 2007; 6 to 8 p.m.
WHERE: Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg Convention Center, 303 Reagan
Drive, Gatlinburg, Tenn. 37738

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:46 AM

March 03, 2007

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Employee
Profiled in Asheville Citizen Times

Julie Judkins.jpg

Photo Credit: Special to the Asheville Citizen-Times

The Asheville Citizen Times ran a profile today on Julie Judkins of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This is one of the many reasons why the Asheville Citizen Times is one of my favorite daily newspapers here in the southeast. And I say that as a self admitted newspaper junkie! Whenever I travel to Asheville or the surrounding area, I'm always sure to pick up a copy of the paper. Their online site is also quite good.

I met Julie last April at the Hot Springs, North Carolina Trailfest. She is a dedicated and knowledgeable trail professional.

Julie will be leading two workshops at the upcoming Great Southeastern Hiking Festival planned for May 3-6 in Montreat, North Carolina. She will lead a session about a joint project of the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy entitled A Trail to Every Classroom. This unique project seeks to teach classroom teachers techniques for integrating multidisciplinary content about the Appalachian Trail into their curriculum. Julie will also be leading a session about non-native invasive plants, and how to remove them.

Registration for The Great Southeastern Hiking Festival is currently open. Registration for the full 4 day event is $150, and includes 9 meals. For more information, please visit our festival website.

As a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, I feel good to know that I'm supporting an organization that hires dedicated and qualified employees like Julie. As a hiker, I take my hat off to Julie and say "Thank you" for her good works!

To read the profile as it appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times, please click the link below.

Continue reading "Appalachian Trail Conservancy Employee
Profiled in Asheville Citizen Times"

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 02:09 PM

March 02, 2007

Florida Trail Happenings!

The Florida Trail Association is one of American Hiking Society's most dynamic Alliance members. Last month the Florida Trail Association dedicated a new footbridge over Monkey Creek along the Florida Trail in Apalachicola National Forest. You can watch a 10 minute video of the bridge being built and dedicated, below.

Next on deck is the Florida Trail Association Annual Conference planned for March 16-18 in Umatilla, Florida. This weekend event will feature hikes, entertainment and much more. For more information about the fun filled weekend, please visit the Florida Trail Association website.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 02:45 PM

February 17, 2007

Ecotourism can be a Boon

On Friday February 16, the Martinsville (VA) Bulletin reported that David K. Whitehurst, director of the Wildlife Diversity Division of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had given a talk at Patrick Henry Community College on Wednesday about how ecotourism can help protect wildlife while helping small communities to enhance their economies. Here is the text of that article.

Speaker: Ecotourism can be boon

Friday, February 16, 2007

By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Ecotourism is more than just a fast-growing yet under-utilized way for local communities to make money, a state tourism official said at a meeting at Patrick Henry Community College on Thursday.

It is also a key element in conserving wildlife and wildlife habitats.

“I can do a better job of protecting conservation areas if I allow people to use them than if I lock them up,” said David K. Whitehurst, director of the Wildlife Diversity Division of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Whitehurst spoke at a meeting hosted by the Martinsville-Henry County Rivers and Trails Group, a local affiliate of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA), that was attended by more than 30 people.

Hunters have for years provided money to help preserve fish and game species, Whitehurst said, but funding for non-game species such as birds have been scarce.

He said it is important to foster the growing interest in hiking, birdwatching and exploring natural areas.

“People have to value something before it’s protected,” Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst talked about the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, which served as sort of a “health check” for the state’s animals, fish and birds.

People might think that the wildlife is doing well, he said, but studies done as part of the plan show otherwise.

“I’m here today to tell you it’s not,” Whitehurst said.

There are 925 threatened species in Virginia if invertebrates such as insects and mussels are considered, he said, including 24 out of 85 mammals, 96 of 374 species of birds and 97 of 210 species of fish.

The major reason for this is destruction of habitat for homes and developments, Whitehurst said. Virginian’s are just “consuming land like crazy,” he added.

Creating successful ecotourism opportunities will not only help provide a reason to preserve these threatened habitats, he said, it will bring footprints and money into the local area.

“When they (ecotourists) get excited about these things they like to go places. They like to spend money. They like to enjoy themselves,” he said.

The local community can benefit from the growing number of educated, affluent, health-conscious ecotourists who are seeking natural areas to escape the “rat race,” Whitehurst said.

But to do that it must develop a plan. Whitehurst stressed that the plan be comprehensive, including not only nature sites but also amenities such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, good restaurants, and historical and cultural sites.

Tourists expect quality lodging and eating opportunities, he said. Ecotourists also tend to be interested in hiking and other opportunities for healthy exercise.

When creating its plan a community must find what makes it unique and build on that.

“You’ve got to carve a niche for yourself. You’ve got to brand yourself. You’ve got to market yourself,” Whitehurst said.

Ecotourism is “big business,” he said, the “fastest growing sector of tourism” with $38.4 billion spent in the nation in 2001, and communities should not be afraid to ask government for marketing money.

Whitehurst said such plans also work better if they are spread across a regional area, so it helps to forget some standard boundaries for competition, like the county line.

Whitehurst talked about some existing ecotourism opportunities in the community such as hiking trails, the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail that has stops in Henry County, and underused wildlife management areas like the Fairystone Farms Wildlife Management Area.

Wildlife management areas are primarily used by hunters, he said, but they could be a boon to local communities if the state can find a way to get more birders and hikers interested in them.

“I think you’ve got some great opportunities,” Whitehurst said, and it is in the area’s “best interest” to develop them in a pro-conservation way.

Local DRBA Planning and Program Director Katherine Hebert said she felt Whitehurst’s speech had hit on a number of “key points,” especially the need to package the communities’ tourism opportunities together.

She said she was pleased with the turnout, which included a number of local officials and prominent tourism and conservation activists, because it showed “people really care about” conservation in this community.

For more information about Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan, visit

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:29 AM

February 10, 2007

First Lady Laura Bush - Hiker & Birder!

First Lady Laura Bush with the President at Shenandoah National Park on February 7

At a press conference held in Shenandoah National Park on Wednesday February 7, President Bush discussed his National Parks Centennial Initiative, and the federal budget for the National Park Service. The President is proposing significant increases in funding for our National Parks in his FY08 budget. To read the White House fact sheet on the National Parks Centennial Initiative, please visit the White House website.

During the press conference, First Lady Laura Bush talked about her love of hiking and birding in our nation's national parks. What a fascinating hiking partner the First Lady would make! Here's an excerpt of Mrs. Bush's comments from the press conference;

Mrs. Bush: "Well, I just want to say how important the national parks are to me, personally important, because of all the times that I've had the opportunity to hike in our national parks, to camp in our national parks. I've traveled -- hiked every summer with a group of women that I grew up with in Midland. We all live in different parts of the country now, but we meet in a national park. We've mainly hiked in our big Western national parks: Yosemite; Yellowstone; Glacier; Olympic National Park; the Grand Canyon -- which we've done twice, once a Colorado River trip, and then hiking out the South Rim; the second time with our daughters, which was a lot harder than the first time, when we were a lot younger ourselves.

Our national parks -- the wildness of our national parks is one of the things I really like. Also, we live in a national park. The White House is considered a national park. The national parks include many of our most historical sites, the sites in our country that are shrines to our history. And that's also a very, very important part of the national parks.

But the part that I've loved is the wildness, the opportunity to be back, far back in the back country, where you don't see a lot of people, where you have a chance to birdwatch or do all the other things that we like to see -- you run into a bear every once in a while, which we have. Last summer we were in Denali, deep in Denali, in Alaska, and got to add to our life list of birds, a lot of birds that we wouldn't have ever had the chance to see if we hadn't been back deep in our wilderness.

So I want to congratulate Dirk. I want to thank President Bush for this major initiative for our national parks. It's very, very important for our country to make sure, as we come upon the centennial in 2016, that our national parks are treated with the respect that we want them to be treated with -- and it also gives us a chance to educate the stewards of our national parks that will come after us."

Stay tuned for more stories about the National Park Centennial here at the Southern Appalachians Initiative blog.

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 12:10 PM

November 04, 2006

Mahoosuc Notch - The toughest horizontal mile on the Appalachian Trail

Back on July 31, 2000 I was nearing the end of my 2167-mile thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Having entered Maine the day before I was filled with excitement, but my energy was also starting to lag. Turns out that I was sick, and became ill in the middle of the Mahoosuc Notch, which is the toughest horizontal mile on the entire Appalachian Trail.

Although I made it out of the Notch, I wasn't able to enjoy my scramble through the rocks. Next year I hope to take my 16 year old daughter Martha back to Maine, and "hike" the Mahoosuc Notch with here. If you can call navigating the Notch hiking.

Yesterday, I found an article in about the Mahoosuc Notch. The article includes a Flash Presentation entitled "Navigating the Notch" and some video footage of hikers scrambling through the boulders. Check it out!

Does that look like fun to you?

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:26 AM

May 13, 2006

Great Eastern Trail

get_final chattablogs.jpg

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the Great Eastern Trail! This new long distance trail system will stretch from the Alabama/Florida border north to Central New York, and along the way it'll pass through downtown Chattanooga.

This trail has been on the drawing board for years, but in the last 6 months the trail leaders who are making this trail possible have named the trail, and decided to make it public.

Continue reading "Great Eastern Trail"

Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:42 PM