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Trials of the Appalachian Trail

(Page 2 of 4)

The idea of a buffer was twofold: to protect hikers from boisterous civilization and to insulate civilization from growing legions of backpack-laden hikers. The project has resulted in what Park Service officials consider one of the most complicated acquisition projects the agency has ever undertaken. Generally, Congress outlines the land to be purchased when a national park is established. But with the Appalachian Trail, boundaries are being mapped plot by plot.

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No small task, considering that the trail tiptoes across more than 1,200 individual properties -- each requiring sometimes painstaking negotiation. It also snakes through 14 states, eight national forests, two national parks, and numerous state parks. Already the federal agency has talked titles with everyone from Buddhists in New York to maple sugarers in New Hampshire. The project was originally scheduled to have been completed by this fall.

To be sure, most of the land negotiations have been pleasant. Indeed, Park Service officials think the cooperation from federal, state, and local officials , as well as private groups, could serve as a model for future preservation projects. Maintenance of the trail will fall into the hands of some 60-odd hiking groups strung out along the trail, the way it has since its inception -- a low-cost, small-is-beautiful approach.

So far the Park Service has acquired about one-third of the 400 miles it has to protect. Another 400 miles is eventually to be protected by the states and National Forest Service. What opposition there has been from landowners has subsided somewhat since 1979, when the Park Service first began marking off the wilderness corridor. Yet small pockets of resistance -- such as in the Cumberland Valley area of Pennsylvania -- still exist.

And then there is Hanover. Few expected any pronlonged eruption in this conservation-minded community. After all, the town has not one but at least two conservation commissions (one public, one private). Through restrictive zoning laws it has also lassoed growth with the vengeance of a cattleman. Hiking boots and flannel shirts clog Dartmouth College hallways.

In addition, members of the Dartmouth Outing Club have been hoofing and maintaining trails in the area for dozens of years. But hiking trails are one thing. Permanent federally owned corridors are another.

"It's like running an Interstate through the middle of a community. Nobody is ever happy with any of the routes -- that's just the nature of the game," says Mr. Campion, referring to alternate corridors that have been discussed between Park Service officials and angry landowners.

Like elsewhere, the Park Service is trying to relocate the trail away from the pavement and closer to the poplars. Now the trail enters Hanover from the west, across the Connecticut River. It runs right down the main street, with its redbrick storefronts, and eventually coils northeastward up the state.

But the state, aided by the Dartmouth outing Club, mapped a new route in the early 1970s. The new trail would still be near the downtown area, but on a more wooded route. The amount of trail on roadways, now about 2.8 miles, would be cut about in half. Along the way, however, the new corridor skirts across 18 private properties.

Battle lines have been drawn. Some townspeople and landowners are greeting the project, the way they would a long-lost cousin. A few others stubbornly refuse to give up their land. Over the past two years innuendo and alternate routes have been batted back and forth like shuttlecocks.