{ By Larry Luxenberg }
{ By Larry Luxenberg }
the only full-fledged hiking museum in the U.S. is located near the mid-point of the A.T. in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania
Springer Mountain
Springer Mountain
THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL MUSEUM MARKED THE start of its tenth season with a big weekend in early May. On Saturday May 4, the museum inducted its ninth class into the A.T. Hall of Fame — which now totals 40 members. The following day, at its Hall of Fame Festival, the Museum unveiled five new exhibits, the largest number of new exhibits since its grand opening on June 5, 2010. At the festival, despite an all-day downpour, nearly 80 people listened to Hall of Fame inductees and people involved in the new exhibits. Among the attendees were the family of “Walkin’” Jim Stolz, who came from as far away as Alaska, and the three living founders of the American Hiking Society, who organized Hikanation: Jim Kern, Bill Kemsley, and Paul Pritchard.

Hall of Fame honorees this year were Jean Cashin, one of the most revered Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) employees; Paul Fink, who designed much of the original southern A.T.; Don King, the National Park Service head of land acquisition for the A.T. and other trails; and the late Bob Proudman of the ATC, noted for his work on the physical Trail. Mike Wingeart, former Appalachian Long-Distance Hikers Association coordinator, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The five new exhibits opened were: “The A.T. and the National Scenic Trails; Hikanation,” a cross country group hike in 1980-81 by the new American Hiking Society, which utilized 500 miles of the A.T.; “Blazing the Trail in Maine,” featuring Myron Avery’s folding kayak; “A Night on the Trail,” a children’s exhibit of a Trail shelter; and “Walkin’ Jim Stolz,” the famous A.T. hiker and musician, featuring his hiking guitar “Stella,” which he credited with breaking a fall and saving his life. Also, the initial entry in a revolving hiker exhibit area, is the feather-light pack used by current Trail legend Heather “Anish” Anderson to set the unsupported A.T. hiking record.

A.T. Museum building
Top to bottom: A.T. Museum building; A look into the entrance of the children’s museum; Significant A.T. signs from Springer Mountain, Center Point Knob, and Katahdin; Descriptive panels on the present day hiking experience in Vermont, New York, and New Jersey – Photos by Nathaniel Shank
The A.T. Museum is the only full-fledged hiking museum in the U.S. and includes a reference library with more than 2,000 A.T.-related books, magazines, and other documents set up by retired Florida State University reference librarian Linda Patton; a children’s museum; and a large collection of artifacts from the builders and maintainers of the Trail as well as pioneering hikers. The museum hosts speakers and other programs and special events, and has also published two books, Thru, a novel by 1973 thru-hiker Richard Judy and the biography of Earl Shaffer, A Grip on the Mane of Life, by David Donaldson and Maurice J. Forrester.

As a reflection of the A.T. itself, the museum was created, built, and is run largely by volunteers. There is a part-time manager (and A.T. thru-hiker), Nate “Angry Bird” Shank, who coordinates volunteers and deals with myriad tasks necessary to run even a small museum properly. Local and long-term volunteers, as well as interns are welcome for every task that the museum performs.

The museum is located in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Gardners, Pennsylvania, close to the geographic midpoint of the A.T. and adjacent to the Pine Grove General Store (location of the “Half Gallon” ice cream challenge) and Ironmasters Hostel. Shortly after the museum opened, the A.T. was relocated a short distance, taking it off a park road and bringing it past the store and the museum itself. The Trail continues north on a 19th Century roadbed, uncovered before the museum opened by volunteers clearing overgrowth on its surrounding grounds. The museum building is located in a historic grist mill that dates back to about 1765.

Each year, more than 10,000 people visit the museum. About half of the visitors come from the four-county area of Pennsylvania surrounding it. The remaining visitors come from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries. It has attracted national and international print and television coverage and was featured in an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Mystery of the Museum,” focusing on a shoe of Grandma Gatewood, a pioneering thru-hiker.

Among projects underway are a native plants garden and a reconstruction on the museum grounds of a stone trail shelter built by first thru-hiker, Earl Shaffer, around 1960. The museum is hoping to get Trail maintaining clubs involved in this project. Also underway is an exhibit on historic Trail saws and other tools.

The A.T. Hall of Fame honors people who have made an exceptional and positive contribution to the A.T. and the A.T. community. Nominations are welcome. More information about nominations and donating artifacts is available at: atmuseum.org