Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail.

Starting next month and continuing over much of the early spring, hikers will set off from Springer Mountain, Ga., with the intention of hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, a distance of 2,200 miles. Over about six months, many dedicated hikers will cover 14 states on foot before reaching the endpoint, Maine’s Mount Katahdin.

Yet, to be truly “Appalachian,” the trail should extend to one more state — Alabama, where the Appalachian Mountains chain begins. For about 10 years, such an opportunity has been possible.

The path to Alabama leads from the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain to the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia and then to the Pinhoti Trail, which winds through northwest Georgia into northeast Alabama and eventually ends atop Coosa County’s Flagg Mountain.

The path to official designation of Coosa County as the southernmost point of the Appalachian Trail has been much more difficult. To make an official extension of the AT, as the Appalachian Trail is called, into Alabama requires an act of Congress.

That’s not hyperbole.

The official route of the AT is determined by federal lawmakers. Trail enthusiasts in Alabama have diligently called for just such a designation since the Appalachian, MacKaye and Pinhoti trails were connected in 2008. Yet, we’ve seen very little movement on that front in Washington.

Now is the time for this movement to extend beyond the hikers in our midst. This is a cause for everyone in our region to promote.

We note the effort in Heflin to create a 2.1-mile spur trail between the Pinhoti Trail and the city’s Cahulga Creek Park. As an article in Friday’s Anniston Star pointed out, local residents Mark Truett and Adam Dasinger are leading the charge to see the connector trail created.

Tanya Maloney, Heflin’s economic developer, sees the benefits for the city, mentioning that ecotourism can get cash registers ringing. “Cahulga Creek Park is a huge asset to the City of Heflin,” she said.

Indeed, it is, and connecting it to the Pinhoti — and out-of-town hikers to local businesses in Heflin — makes perfect sense. Consider “trail towns” like Hot Springs, N.C., Ellijay, Ga., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. The economies of these small towns are greatly enriched by tens of thousands of AT hikers who take a break from the trail to enjoy a meal at a restaurant, a hot shower and soft bed, the benefits of resupplying at an outdoors shop and other features of “civilization” absent deep in the woods.

Besides showing the wider world our state’s natural beauty, an extension of the Appalachian Trail into Alabama would create the opportunity for other cities to serve the estimated 2 million hikers who each year take a walk on a portion of the AT. Imagine the potential in cities like Talladega, Oxford and Heflin for businesses to cater to the needs of hikers, whether they are out for a day or the six months required to cover 2,200 miles.

In laying out his vision for an Appalachian Trail almost 100 years ago, Benton MacKaye wrote that such a project would be “a job for 40,000 souls.” The same is true for seeing the AT extend into Alabama. Let’s get to it.