Trials of the Appalachian Trail
Hanover, N. H.
For much of its 2,030-mile stretch it is a pinched slice of boot-packed earth graced by arching groves of hemlock, swaying stands of yellow birch, and bear-clawed clusters of beech.Skip to next paragraph
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It twists and turns past wind-buffeted cornices and sluggish brooks -- through the stony bunkers of America's battleground for independence, past the rumpled hills of Thoreau country, and on to pristine outposts such as Chimney Rock, Va., and Keys Gap, W. Va.
The Appalachian Trail is a retreat for more than 4 million nature-hungry people each year.Yet even this, the world's most famous footpath, isn't without its squabbles.
Small plumes of protest have erupted here and there over federal efforts to buy up land and permanently protect the trail. The hubbub surrounds the National Park Service's efforts to widen the corridor and relocate it in areas threatened by development. A few spirited landowners affected by the project are battling what they see as a land-grabbing National Park Service.
The controversy has particularly rocked this steeple-dotted town, through which the corridor has run with the blessing of townsfolk for more than half a century on its wooded journey from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia.
"It's just one of those that keeps coming back like a bad dream," James Campion, chairman of the board of selectmen, observes.
The Appalachian Trail protection project here is a tale of big government and small landowners, of wilderness ethics and stubborn attachment to the land. The battle symbolizes some of the fruits and frustrations the federal government and hiking groups have encountered in trying to permanently protect "one of the seven wonders of the outdoorsman's world."
And now the project might also become a Park Service tale of the survival of the fittest, as the Reagan administration casts its money-conscious eye around for expendable projects.
The Appalachian Trial, one of the more valuable recreation areas in the congested East, is within a day's drive of about half the nation's population. The serpentine footpath was launched in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, a forester-philosopher who saw the need for a recreational outlet for people living in the "chan of smoky beehive cities" along the Eastern Seaboard.Crews of hikers and naturalists finished marking off the footpath 16 years later.
In 1968, Congress decided to permanently protect the trail, authorizing $5 million to preserve a 200-foot-wide corridor along unprotected sections of the trail. But overuse and sprawling development continued to erode the trail's pristine character. By the mid-1970s, more than 200 miles of the footpath had been forced onto roadways as property owners objected to having the trail run through their land or hiking clubs rerouted sections to avoid developers' bulldozers. So in 1978 Congress empowered the Park Service to spend a total of
Some $35 million of the overall $90 million has been appropriated to date. An additional $20 million was earmarked in the Carter administration's budget for 1982, but Reagan's proposed budget would wipe out most of that, except probably enough to cover administrative costs. In addition, several million dollars in 1981 monies might be rescinded, Park Service officials say. Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt is poised to put a moratorium on federal land acquisions; how this will affect the Appalachian Trail project will be discussed at congressional hearings this week. Without additional funding -- and permission -- to buy more land to link together already-purchased parcels, Park Service officials say, much of the $35 million doled out so far will have been spent in vain.