A Dedicated Trail Relocation
By Stephanie Bouchard
On a sunny fall day in the Tribute Garden of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) Harpers Ferry headquarters, the family and friends of Michael Alexander Cooker joined with the members of the ATC family to celebrate his life and the role the Appalachian Trail played in it.

Cooker’s life ended tragically in April of 2018 when he was 30 years old. Wanting to celebrate that life, his family and friends raised funds and made a donation to the ATC, which were used to complete one phase of an ongoing Trail relocation project at Loudoun Heights. On September 29, on what would have been his 32nd birthday, Cooker’s family, friends and members of the ATC gathered to dedicate a plaque in his memory — which is now on display in ATC’s Harpers Ferry Visitor Center — and to commemorate the new section of Trail supported by their donation.

“I think every day on the Trail was a great adventure for Michael,” said his mother, Ann Cooper, during the dedication. “We are grateful to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for making this vision of a living memorial to Michael’s joyful days a reality.” The donation from Michael’s friends and family made possible the completion of what was planned as the second phase of the two-phase relocation on Loudoun Heights, explains Chris Brunton, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s (PATC) northern Virginia district manager (and husband of the ATC’s president/CEO, Sandra Marra).

“We’re really thankful to Ann and her family for what she did for us to get that phase two [done],” Brunton says. “That was a surprise we did not expect at all.” The relocation project, under the direction of one of the ATC’s Mid-Atlantic regional managers, Bob Sickley, has been a work in progress for a number of years, Brunton says. The ATC, the PATC, whose volunteers maintain that section of Trail, and the National Park Service staff at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, recognized that the A.T. on Loudoun Heights was problematic and a relocation was a good solution.

The section of Trail being replaced is too steep, eroded, and impossible to maintain, Brunton says, and all the human traffic was endangering nearby historic and culturally sensitive Civil War sites. Phase one of the relocation has been underway for about two-and-a-half years and is scheduled to be completed next year. The now-completed phase two does not change the length of the A.T. significantly, but reaches the ridgetop and Virginia border almost half a mile farther south, and no longer connects directly with the Loudoun Heights Trail, where the upper portion has been closed. (The Split Rock vista can still be accessed via the Orange Trail.)

To mark the completion of this new A.T. section, Michael’s mother and his brother, Steven, and Steven’s fiancée, painted the final A.T. blazes on what they call “Michael’s trail.”

Loudoun Heights, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
To see a detailed map of the relocation visit:
From left: An Appalachian Conservation Corps team member defines tread on the relocation; Ann Cooper and her son Steven paint a white blaze on the new section of Trail