Presidents Letter
Presidents Letter
The Appalachian Trail:  
The Heart of the Wild East
CHEERS TO A NEW YEAR, fresh thinking, and finding your wild place.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is off to a great start this year in thinking creatively, with an eye on the future. We’re launching “Wild East,” a powerful public outreach initiative intended to increase support for the Trail and the lands that surround it. You, and hopefully millions of other people, are going to hear us talk about how the Appalachian Trail is the heart of an important corridor of open space in the eastern United States — open space that astonishingly remains intact, stretching nearly 2,200 miles, open space that needs attention and your support.

Just as the West has its allure of scenic vistas, starry skies, and towns of character, so does the Trail and its adjoining lands. The ATC is going to be talking about how the Wild East is every bit as important as the iconic, well-known national parks in the West. And how we now, urgently, need to make certain the future of the Trail is expansive, not limited.

We’re picking up on what Benton MacKaye noted in the 1920s as he saw flourishing interest in establishing national parks and witnessed the wealthy boarding trains for national parks in the West. MacKaye pointedly envisioned something bigger and more accessible noting: “However useful may be the National Parks and Forests of the West for those affording the Pullman fare to reach them, what is needed by the bulk of the American population is something nearer home.” MacKaye’s desire was for the Trail to not be an isolated footpath, but something that connects—and unites—people to a treasured landscape valued for its pristine natural and scenic resources.

Today, the Appalachian Trail is the cord, connecting six national parks, seven national forests, several national wildlife refuges, national heritage areas, national recreation areas, and some national wilderness areas. The Trail links state parks, historic farmlands, and forests as it unites us in our appreciation for natural beauty and appeals to our “wild side.”

The word wild, we know, is defined in many ways. A natural state. A sense of awaiting adventure. Freedom from the daily grind. For some, it is finding your way to designated wilderness. For others, it is a day hike in a serene forest, escaping the confines of concrete and noise. Or gazing at a dark night sky. Whatever wild means to you, it is nearby, along the A.T. That’s the point of talking about the Wild East, about reminding people of the original vision for the Trail and calling out the attributes of preserving open space traversing the eastern United States.

In this column, I use the word wild as an exclamation point. In my first year leading the ATC, I have been wildly impressed by supporters and by those who commit to maintaining the Trail. And I have been wildly grateful for the invitations to get on the Trail with those who love it; to visit Trail town communities and discuss geotourism strategies; and to engage in thoughtful big-vision dialogue.

Wild East refreshes the ATC’s advocacy for landscape conservation in a way that captures attention and invites increasing support for the preservation of the Trail and open space. However you define it, whatever your most-valued feature of the Trail, the ATC encourages you to ramp up your engagement in protecting what could be lost.

Over the next two years, leading to the 100th anniversary of MacKaye’s big vision for the Trail, we have the opportunity to reexamine and revive, to showcase all the reasons the Trail corridor is vital to the eastern United States, and to remind everyone around the world of the Appalachian Trail and the Wild East.

I hope you will support the ATC and unite with us in saving the last remaining contiguous open space in the eastern United States.

See you on the Trail!