3/15 Update - Important historical resource:  Mittlefehldt, S., 2013, Tangled roots : the Appalachian Trail and American environmental politics: Seattle, University of Washington Press, xvii, 255 p.



Kent Anderson






This report was funded by a grant from the American Land Alliance, a non-profit foundation located in Mountain View, California. All opinions expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who permitted me to interview them, including officials of the Appalachian Trail Conference, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and the Hanover (New Hampshire) Conservation Commission. In particular, the author would like to thank the members of the Appalachian Trail Landowners Association for their time and patience.


For slightly more than 2000 miles a hiking trail runs from Maine to Georgia through 14 states. It is called the Appalachian Trail (AT) and proceeds primarily along the ridge line of the Appalachian Mountains, although many other mountain ranges also figure prominently in the pathway such as the Great Smokies in the South and the White Mountains in the North. For the most part, the Trail is governed by the National Park Service within the U.S., Department of Interior. The AT is strictly a narrow footpath for hikers. No motorcycles nor other vehicles are allowed. Although much of the Trail passes through public land, much of it also crosses private land and it is the latter state of affairs which is the concern of this report.

This study is a micro-study, focusing on the small part of the Appalachian Trail (photo 1) which passes through the area around the town of Hanover, New Hampshire (Photo 2), the home of Dartmouth College (Photos 3 and 4). Part Two offers the reader a brief history of the Appalachian Trail, particularly as it relates to the state of New Hampshire.

A comment here about sources is appropriate for the reader. References are given at the end of each Part.  After an initial full citation, later referrals to the same source may be in a shortened format. With the exception of newspapers and interviews, which are cited fully at first reference in the endnotes, all references in the Bibliography are cited in full.

Part Three in this report presents the stories of people who are primarily inholders, landowners whose property has been touched by the Appalachian Trail. Each person is featured in a vignette or case study and the focus for the reader is on the land acquisition policies of the National Park Service which have impacted upon these people; in other words, how the Appalachian Trail has affected the economic, social, and cultural life of those citizens who live with the Trail upon their land. 1


There are two Appalachian Trails, the historical and the modern. Probably most Americans associate the Appalachian Trail with the name of Daniel Boone and that pioneer's efforts to lead early American settlers westward through the Cumberland Gap to the trans-Appalachian frontier of late 18th century America. This Trail, the historical one, has virtually no relevance to this report, The modern Appalachian Trail does not run through the Appalachian Mountains, but rather along their ridge north to south. As one of the nation's most distinguished frontier historians, Professor Mal Rohrbough of the University of Iowa, said, "There are no historical antecedents to the modern Appalachian Trail," The historical Trail ran east to west and intersects the modern Trail which extends from Maine to Georgia. 1

As a professional historian the author felt it important that the reader, at the outset, should not be confused on this point. The distinction is especially worthwhile to remember whenever a hiker, an official, or anyone else might invoke the mantle of history when discussing the modern Appalachian Trail. Such a use of the past would be totally erroneous.

The modern Appalachian Trail owes its existence primarily to the vision of one man, Benton MacKaye. MacKaye was a forester and naturalist from Massachusetts who, near the turn of the century, developed the idea of a long hiking trail which would run from one of New England's highest mountains to one of the highest in the south. He first articulated this notion to friends in 1921. Shortly thereafter, MacKaye published his Appalachian Trail concept in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects and the idea took hold.

By 1923 the first part of the new Appalachian Trail had been cleared and marked in the Bear Mountain region of Palisades Interstate Park of New York and New Jersey. In 1925 a landmark organization was formed, the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC). It was established as an umbrella group which would supervise future Trail planning and coordinate all the various private hiking clubs which would maintain the Trail. Such clubs included the Appalachian Mountain Club, one of the oldest hiking clubs in the nation, founded in Boston in 1876, the Green Mountain Club in Vermont, and the Dartmouth Outing Club in Hanover, New Hampshire, an organization which figures prominently in this report.2

By 1928, at the time of the second meeting of the Appalachian Trail Conference, 500 miles of trail had been designated. By 1937, the entire Trail was marked from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. In 1958 the southern terminus of the AT was shifted slightly north to Springer Mountain, Georgia.

As the 1950's and 1960's wore an the hiking population of the Trail increased and so did the demands for greater protection of the AT. Inevitably those concerns made their way to the federal government and, in October of 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Trails System Act. This Act established both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail on the other side of the continent. It also provided a basis for future National Scenic and Recreational Trails. The 2000 mile-long footpath which had been the dream of Benton MacKaye was now a federally-protected reality. 3

The National Trails System Act put the bulk of governing authority for the Appalachian Trail upon the Department of Interior, through the National Park Service, except in those sections where the Trail went through National Forest land such as the White Mountains in New Hampshire. National Forest areas fall under the domain of the Department of Agriculture.

With regard to land acquisition along the AT, the Act stated:

. . . consideration shall be given to minimizing the adverse effects upon the adjacent landowner or user and his operation. Development and management of each segment of the National Trails System shall be designed to harmonize with and complement established multiple-use plans for that specific area . . .

In other words, every attempt would be made by the Park Service to minimally disrupt the security and quality of life on the land for those landowners who now found a new federal neighbor in the form of the Appalachian Trail. 4

Something should be said for the reader's edification about the modern Appalachian Trail as it existed in the earlier decades prior to the federal takeover. It was a narrow footpath which wound through both public and private land. The Appalachian Trail Conference and its subsidiary clubs formed many agreements with private landowners so that the Trail could proceed through their land. Normally the AT was blazed along property borders so as to cause the least disruption. Often older trails were simply used by the ATC. For instance, in the state of New Hampshire the Dartmouth Outing Club (housed on the campus of Dartmouth College--Photo 5) had originally been formed in 1909 as a winter club for cross-country skiing, By 1918, the DOC had blazed several trails. Several years later the Appalachian Trail Conference simply adopted the older Dartmouth Outing Club trails as part of the new AT.

By the 1950's and 1960's as some hikers increasingly littered and vandalized private property, many landowners who had previously agreed to easements and use arrangements with the ATC, began to break their agreements and close off parts of the Trail. Since these agreements had been private, or non-governmental, such doings were part of the reason environmentalists clamored for federal protection, as well as emerging development along parts of the Trail.

After passage of the National Trails System Act in 1968 many landowners assumed that the Appalachian Trail would continue essentially as it had before, only with the added imprimatur of the federal government. In too many cases, though, such assumptions proved to be wrong. Within a decade or so the federal takeover meant an extreme widening of the Trail corridor bordering the footpath, often to the point of more than quadrupling the width of the AT as it had been known previously under the aegis of the Appalachian Trail Conference. What had functioned well, for the most part, for decades as a delightful hiking experience and reasonably unobtrusive neighbor to most landowners soon evolved into a greatly swollen Appalachian Trail with the power to condemn people's land through what has seemed to be an often needless use of eminent domain and its threat. 5

The 1968 Trails System Act specifically encouraged the affected states to get involved and participate in the design and management of the Appalachian Trail. This was exactly what the state of New Hampshire did, beginning in the early 1970's. The state directed the Trail proposal with the help of the Dartmouth Outing Club. Through careful planning New Hampshire officials eventually devised an Appalachian Trail with a 200-foot wide corridor through their state. The state planners thought that this width, common with much of the AT as it had existed previously, would provide an adequate buffer for the hiking path. As the Trail passed through wooded areas, obviously, the 200-foot width would be more than enough space to prevent obtrusive development from intruding upon the hiker's outdoor experience. In more open areas, it was thought the corridor would be reasonably wide enough to offer a pastoral bordering strip on both sides of the footpath to diminish the effect of viewing structures by the hiker.

Perhaps more important than the corridor width, the state of New Hampshire had planned to acquire the land for the Appalachian Trail through less-than-fee methods such as permanent easement purchases. The state trail planners saw no necessity to buy the land outright. They were confident that the Trail could be adequately protected and maintained through cooperative arrangements with its neighbors, without the large cost and social disruption caused by the title transfer of private land to the state.

New Hampshire's plans for the AT, however, ran into two roadblocks. The first occurred in the mid and late 1970's when the state's arch-conservative Governor, Meldrim Thompson, consistently vetoed funds which had been approved by the state legislature for the expanded planning and implementation of the Appalachian Trail in the state. The second barrier to the state planners was even more formidable, the National Park Service.

The Park Service had much bigger plans for land acquisition for the AT in the state. The agency wanted an approximate 1000-foot wide corridor to buffer the hiking path. Worse yet, for the people of New Hampshire, the NPS wanted to control much of the land along the Trail by buying it outright and condemning that which would not be willingly sold. The 1000-foot swath was necessary, according to the Park Service, to insure "protection" of the Appalachian Trail. (To give the reader an idea of how wide 1000 feet is, it is more than the width of the standard four or eight land divided interstate highway). Also, to acquire most acreage by fee simple purchase was not a new policy for the agency despite the unusual angular nature of the AT. The Park Service had a long aversion to easements. It preferred total control for bureaucratic ease and it had the seemingly unlimited wherewithal to buy as much land as it wanted. 6

The New Hampshire forest planners were confounded by such a policy and the intransigence of the Park Service produced a stalemate by 1978. This state-federal dispute, coupled with an uncooperative Governor, forced the New Hampshire officials, who had worked for years on the Trail, to reluctantly give up their primacy in planning the shape of the AT through their state to the federal government. In 1978, in fact, the Park Service received a $90 million boost from Congress to hasten their land acquisition along the Trail.

With the state of New Hampshire now pushed aside, the Park Service proceeded rapidly in 1978. The Dartmouth Outing Club willingly adapted to the newly expanded federal AT. In fact, many DOC members preferred a wider corridor. Being a private club hiking and skiing club, supported by Dartmouth College, the DOC understandably had no reason for fiscal responsibility and community caution in land acquisition for the Trail. 7

What occurred in 1978-1979 along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire remains a subject of great controversy. Many landowners were not informed of the NPS takeover of the project and its resultant changes. Many of those affected continued to assume that a 200-foot corridor would border their land on a permanent easement basis, as the state had wished. Particularly controversial were the methods by which the Park Service tried to implement its policies. The agency worked indirectly. In other words, landowners were notified of an expanded AT by members of the Dartmouth Outing Club and the Appalachian Trail Conference, groups which seemed to be implicitly speaking on behalf of the Park Service and which were legally empowered to do nothing other than to advise the Park Service and maintain the Trail as devised by the federal government. Offers of land use options and purchase, negotiation tactics, and permission to survey and appraise were strictly the responsibility of the NPS. It was as if the National Park Service was invisible during these crucial years of the late 1970's.

This state of affairs will be discussed much more in Park Three, but what happened to inholder Stuart J. Stebbins might serve as an example. In the early summer of 1978, he received a letter from a Neil Van Dyke who identified himself as a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club. Also, the letter was on DOC stationary. The letter announced that the National Park Service was in the process of "finalizing" the Trail route, unbeknownst to most affected property owners, and, not only that, but the Trail was now going to run along Stebbins land. This was the first the Stebbins' heard about the relocation of the AT onto their land! What Van Dyke did not disclose in the letter was the fact that he was also an employee of the National Park Service!

Another example of this confusion for the landowners occurred when Eleanor Blanchard received a letter from the Executive Director of the DOC, not a Park Service employee, which included an official NPS Right-of-Entry for Survey form. Blanchard was then requested to sign the form and mail it to the Park Service.

These are only two examples of the extraordinarily odd circumstances which faced the people scheduled to have the Trail on their land. Confusion, anger, and resentment were all too often the result as the Park Service moved into their lives. What follows in the next Part are the experiences of same of the neighbors of the Appalachian Trail and their encounters with the land acquisition procedures of the National Park Service. 8


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