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The Appalachian Mountains

The Appalachian-Caledonian Mountains were formed more than 250 Million years ago during the Paleozoic Era, when the earth’s plates collided to form the supercontinent Pangea. They straddled the central part of that continent in what is today eastern North America, eastern Greenland, Western Europe, and northwest Africa. When today’s continents separated to form the Atlantic Ocean, remnants of the Appalachian-Caledonian Mountains ended up in the eastern United States and Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, the British Isles, Brittany, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

The International Appalachian Trail

The idea to build a hiking trail through the northern Appalachian Mountains was proposed at a news conference on April 22nd, 1994, in Portland, Maine, by former MaineGovernor Joseph E. Brennan, with technical support provided by Maine
conservationists Dick Anderson and Don Hudson. It was designed as a project that would give Mainers an opportunity to work with and get to know their Canadian neighbors. The plan was to work with folks in New Brunswick and Quebec
to develop a hiking trail that followed the Appalachian Mountains, from Maine’s Katahdin to Mont Carleton in New Brunswick and then on to Mount Jacques Cartier in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsular.

On June 25, 1994, a delegation from Maine met with a group of hiking advocates from Quebec and New Brunswick in New Brunswick’s Mount Carleton Park and decided to move forward with the development of an international trail. Later, after much discussion, it was decided that the name of the trail would be the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). Several more international meetings were held during 1995 and 1996 to further develop the trail plan. During meetings and at social events, held in conjunction with each meeting, the international partners discussed the idea of extending the principle of “ Thinking Beyond Borders” to other eastern Canadian Provinces whose landscape included part of the ancient Appalachian Mountains, formed 300 million years ago. The first extension, approved in 1995, was for about 150 miles from Mont Jacques Cartier to Cap Gaspé, at the eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. Discussion of the idea of further expansion continued, and in 2002 the IAT was extended to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Appalachian terrains. Trail sections through the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were added in
subsequent years.

In October of 1997, John Brinda became the first person to hike the whole of the IAT (Katahdin to Cap Gaspé at that time) and the first person to hike the entire east coast of the North American continent, in his trek from Key West, Florida to Cap Gaspé, Quebec. Brinda’s feat was repeated in 1998 by legendary long-distance hiker,  Eberhart “Nimblewill Nomad”.

With roughly 1800 miles of trail located from Maine’s Katahdin to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Crow Head, social hour talk turned to the ancient Appalachian Mountains located on the other side of the Atlantic.

In June 2009, representatives of the IAT were invited by Hugh Barron of the British Geological Survey in Scotland to come to the British Isles to explore interest in extending the IAT to the Appalachian terrains of Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The visiting delegation was made up of six members of Maine’s IAT chapter board of directors and four members from the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter. This group met with public officials and hikers and made several public presentations throughout the British Isles that generated a great deal of interest.

In April 2010, after visits by IAT Maine's Will Richard, Greenland became the first IAT chapter outside of North America. This was followed in June by Scotland, when the West Highland Way was welcomed to the IAT at the Grand Opening of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove State Park, Pennsylvania.

In October 2010, at an IAT Europe meeting in Aviemore, Scotland during the Adenture Travel Trade Association World Summit, IAT Council Chairperson Paul Wylezol welcomed seven new European chapters to the IAT, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and Wales.

In March 2011, after a visit to Maine by Spanish geologist Ruth Hernandez, the Maine chapter sent a three-person delegation (Don Hudson, Bob Marvinney & Thomas Urquhart) to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco to explore the interest in forming IAT chapters in those countries.  That visit resulted in a chapter being formed in Spain and a good deal of interest being generated in the other countries.

In September 2011, in the wake of visits by IAT Vice-Chair Eric Chouinard, France joined the IAT after representatives of the 200,000 plus member French Rambling Association attended the IAT AGM in Gaspésie National Park, Quebec.  During the AGM, Magne Haugseng was elected the first IAT Europe Vice-Chair, while Hugh Baron was elected first IAT Europe Geologist.  That was followed in October by the IAT becoming the first member from the Western Hemisphere to join the European Ramblers' Association.

In June 2012, the IAT held its first Annual Meeting outside of North America when it was hosted by the Iceland Touring Association (ITA) in Reykjavik, Iceland.  After a ceremony at the Mid Atlantic Ridge in Thingvellir National Park, the ITA’s Kjalvegur hinn forni trail was welcomed as the newest member of the IAT.

The newly completed Wales Coast Path along the entire 870 mile (1400 km) coast of Wales joined the International Appalachian Trail in December 2012, following the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail’s lead from 2011.  From October 2012 to June 2014, the other UK National Trails in both England and Wales also joined the IAT, combining to create both a countryside and coastal route from the border with Scotland to the English Channel.  In January 2013, the Isle of Man between England and Northern Ireland also joined, with its 95 mile (153 km) Raad ny Foillan looping footpath around the Manx coast.

In July 2013, the Portuguese municipality of Oleiros in Naturtejo Global Geopark voted in favor of including the Grand Route Muradal-Pangea as the centerpiece of an IAT Portugal.  The trail was officially launched as a part of the IAT in March 2015.  It was followed in July 2015 by the IAT’s first trail on the African continent, in Morocco between Midelt and Taroudant.  It passes through both Toubkal National Park and M’Goun Geopark.

As of July 2015, there were IAT walking trails in Maine (United States), New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland (Canada), Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, England, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. 

The IAT will continue to expand into new areas of Appalachian terranes, connecting existing IAT trails with new routes, always based on the original mission to connect all of the mountains and landscapes that were created or otherwise connected on the super-continent Pangaea, more than 250 million years ago when the Iapetus Ocean closed, before the Atlantic Ocean opened.