Appalachian National Scenic Trail Foundation Document

The core components of this foundation document include a brief description of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the nature and purposes of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, significance statements, fundamental resources and values, and interpretive themes. These components are core because they typically do not change over time. Core components are expected to be used in future planning and management efforts.

by National Park Service

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail—commonly referred to as the A.T. and referenced throughout this document as simply the Trail—is a public footpath that traverses more than 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Mountains and valleys between Katahdin, Maine (northern terminus), and Springer Mountain, Georgia (southern terminus). The Trail winds through scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands along this ancient mountain range. More than 99% of the Trail’s corridor is protected by publicly owned lands.

The Trail has a celebrated grassroots origin. The A.T. idea gained momentum in 1921 with the proposals of Benton MacKaye, a regional planner from Massachusetts. He envisioned a trail as a means to preserve the Appalachian crests and to provide a retreat from increasingly industrialized modern life. The Trail was designed, constructed, and maintained in the 1920s and 1930s by volunteer hiking clubs, brought together by a volunteer-based nonprofit—the Appalachian Trail Conference, now known as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Formed in 1925 and based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy continues to work in partnership with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), states, local communities, and a federation of 31 volunteer-led hiking clubs. This partnership, along with the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, combined forces to open a continuous trail by August 1937.

The national significance of the Trail was formally recognized in 1968, when the National Trails System Act established the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as one of the first national scenic trails in the United States. Specifically, this legislation directed the National Park Service, in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, to administer the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The National Trails System Act was amended in 1978 to also authorize funds for the two agencies and the states to protect the entire route with public lands. Today, federal and state agencies remain important in the stewardship of the Trail, and volunteers maintain their long-standing and central role as the heart and soul of the Trail.

Attached document published December 2014

About the Author


The National Park Service (NPS) was created in 1916 and today manages over 390 units found in all 50 states and some of the U.S. territories. NPS supports and operates trails in three interlocking arenas: trails in parks, technical assistance to States and communities, and administration of much of the National Trails System.

More articles by this author

Webinars on YouTube that you might like

Celebrate Trails Day: An Overview of the Celebration + Ways to Engage

Mar 21, 2024

During the webinar, the speakers will provide an overview of Celebrate Trails Day, share ways to get involved, and will go over the tools and materials they will provide to help you plan, promote, and participate in the celebration.

National Water Trails: Designating Your Trail for NWT Status

Jul 6, 2023

Discover the benefits to designating your trail(s) as an NWT, the history of the National Recreation Trails (NRT) program and its subset National Water Trails, the process for trails to become NWTs, and more.

More resources in this category

Trails For All Americans

posted Aug 23, 2023

What would it take for all Americans to be able to go out their front doors and within fifteen minutes be on trails that wind through their cities, towns or villages and bring them back without retracing steps?

Pacific Crest Train Assn. Crew Leadership: Managing Volunteers

posted Aug 17, 2022

For students with moderate to extensive trail building experience who want to lead trail crews and work parties. Not a construction techniques class; this is about effective leadership. Students will have classroom and field work in the following topics: work day responsibilities, risk assessment and safety, tool safety and tool talk, leadership and team building, practical experience leading volunteers.

The Influence of Layout on Appalachian Trail Soil Loss, Widening, and Muddiness

posted Jul 15, 2022

This research investigates the influence of layout and design on the severity of trail degradation.

Improving the Sustainability of the Appalachian Trail

posted Jul 15, 2022

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) is a unique internationally recognized protected natural area encompassing more than 250,000 acres and a 2,190-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia.


344 views • posted 08/13/2020