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Appalachian Trail history captured in W.Va. museum

December 03, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Its rubber tire is cracked and dry, but the measuring wheel Myron H. Avery used to plot out the Appalachian Trail stands as a testament to his work.

In another display case next to the measuring wheel is a typewriter once owned by Benton MacKaye, a forester and planner who first wrote about the idea for the hiking trail.

MacKaye discussed the idea for the trail in an article that appeared in the Journal of American Institute of Architects in 1921.

Then MacKaye organized the first Appalachian Trail conference in 1925, in Washington, D.C., to bring hikers, foresters and public officials together on the idea.

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The items are in a museum at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at 799 Washington St. in Harpers Ferry.

The Appalachian Trail is a popular 2,175-mile hiking path from Maine to Georgia. The idea for the museum was established to help tell the trail's history.

Many pioneering, dedicated hikers of the Appalachian Trail are getting "on in years" and they still have original gear and priceless memorabilia, according to the Web site www.atmuseum.org.

The Appalachian Trail Museum Society was established to start the museum and the group wanted to collect items that tells the history of the trail.

The museum was dedicated last June and many hikers have enjoyed being able to get a firsthand look at trail artifacts and history, officials said.

"This is something they've dreamed of for years," said Terri McLellan, a volunteer in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy office.

The Appalachian Trail Society sees the museum as a project that will take a series of steps over time, and the organization can use volunteers to help with the exhibit and collect artifacts, the Web site said.

Avery, whose career was in admiralty law, was instrumental in forming hiking clubs that worked on construction of the trail, according to the museum.

Avery's measuring wheel was an important tool in early scouting trips for the trail and gathering information for guide books, according to the museum.

Regarding MacKaye, the museum features photos of the planner with his family. It also shows photos at the time of forest devastation due to logging, and MacKaye saw the trail as a way to preserve picturesque lands in the eastern U.S., according to Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

To help spread the word about the new offerings at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, an open house was held there Saturday, which more than 125 attended, Potteiger said.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy officials thought it would be a good time to hold the open house, since many people are visiting Harpers Ferry for the holidays, Potteiger said.

Other new offerings at the conservancy office include an expanded lounge for hikers and volunteers. Harpers Ferry is about the midpoint for the Appalachian Trail, and hikers sometimes stay in the Harpers Ferry area for a couple days while hiking, Potteiger said.

A computer is available to hikers in the lounge for them to e-mail family members and friends or to post photographs about their hike, Potteiger said. And there is a refrigerator offering sodas and organic drinks.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that provides coordination, training and leadership to about 6,000 volunteers that look after the trail.

Overseeing the trail has become a more involved effort as volunteers not only maintain the trail, but keep tabs on endangered species and monitor water quality, Potteiger said.

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