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April 7, 2019 8:19 PM   Subscribe

An Appalachain Trail: A Project In Regional Planning - But the original concept for tracing out a hiking path along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, dreamed up almost a century ago by the planner, forester, and idiosyncratic social reformer Benton MacKaye, was so radical that MacKaye himself feared it would be dismissed as “bolshevistic.” What MacKaye envisioned when he first proposed the trail in a 1921 article for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects was something far beyond a woodsy recreational amenity. This “project in regional planning,” as MacKaye called it, was meant to be a thoroughgoing cultural critique of industrial modernity
posted by the man of twists and turns (6 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating! I'd never heard of Brenton MacKaye before, but these links are a newfound source of inspiration for projects both personal and professional. Thanks!
posted by St. Oops at 9:48 PM on April 7, 2019

This is fantastic. I had no idea that the plan was so much more than a trail.

Also--a thousand people a year complete through hikes of the AT?!! I did the trail in 1980, about a thousand started by something just over a hundred finished.
posted by LarryC at 10:59 PM on April 7, 2019

This explains a lot more that may have influenced Grandma Gatewood’s first throughhike. She was introduced to the AT via a National Geographic article when the trail was new. By the time she hiked it, it’s remarkable vision and maintenance were becoming a new norm. I’m finishing the last leg of MD with my youngest next month. It is indeed a welcome respite from industrial life. his enduring goal has been achieved. Yes, Bill Bryson wrote of his journey, but he would have had a completely different story if AT maintenance remained at pre-Gatewood levels.
posted by childofTethys at 5:11 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Both the Benton MacKaye Trail and the Appalachian Trail have their southern terminuses at Springer Mountain, Georgia. The two form a figure eight that meet again at Fontana Dam, near N.C. Highway 28, then both enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Benton MacKaye Trail has its northern terminus at Big Creek Campground near Davenport Gap, while the A.T. crosses and continues past Davenport Gap and I-40 to points north.
From the Benton MacKaye Trail Association: "Because the BMT intersects the AT at each terminus and in the middle, three large hikable loops are formed in a figure eight: a lower circle of 364 miles, an upper Smokies-only walk of 158 miles, and 'The BMT Loop' - a complete circuit hike of over 500 miles."

The trails have different rules and permits through GSMNP.
From the Appalachian Trail Conservancy: Special GSMNP permits are available for hikers who meet the definition of an A.T. thru-hiker (those who begin and end their hike at least 50 miles outside the park and only travel on the A.T. in the park.) A thru-hiker permit of $20 is valid for 38 days from the date issued for an up to eight-day hike through the park. Hikers staying overnight in the backcountry are required to have a printed copy of the permit.
GSMNP regulations require that thru-hikers stay in a shelter. While other backpackers must make reservations to use backcountry shelters, thru-hikers are exempt. From March 15 to June 15, four spaces at each A.T. shelter are reserved for thru-hikers. If the shelter is full, thru-hikers can tent close by. Only thru-hikers are allowed to tent next to shelters, so they are responsible for making room for those who have reservations in the shelters.

From the National Park Service: GSMNP information about backcountry rules and regulations, including rules about shelters, tents, hammocks, fire safety, food storage safety, water management, human waste disposal, and pets.
posted by TrishaU at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Bolshevistic"? If you want a vision of the future, imagine a hiking boot stamping on a dirt trail - forever.

That was an enjoyable read.

Interesting in how much of MacKaye's motivation behind the AT is still relevant: the concern for an emptying countryside, the "problems of the farmer, the coal miner, and the lumberjack", absorbing the shock of rapidly changing industries, capitalism's endless appetite for man's labor, the promise of emerging technology to free up our time for doing better things, the need for wholistic technocratic solutions to society's structural problems.

There are problems that era's Victorian-inspired concept of just giving a man access to clean air and wholesome wilderness to build character, but at least it's a vision of something other than more of the same for cheaper.
posted by peeedro at 8:40 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

We need the GND, stat. Can you imagine a modern project on this scale? Hell, we could have a whole program that is just refitting the old New Deal projects. Go visit the grand infrastructure and parks in your area and note how much of them are in the art deco style. Only the nuclear power plants are more recent and many of those are aging out of their maximum usable life, being decommissioned, and not replaced. They produce 20 percent of the nations electricity and 60 percent of our emission-free energy. I'm not saying we need more nuclear power plants but we do need to replace them with something that is sustainable. We need more Americans like Benton MacKaye.
posted by domo at 10:32 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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