(Excerpt from Appy Trail's next 75 years: 'There's a need for constant vigilance'on Knoxville News Sentinel website knoxnews.com.)
Over the course of its 75-year history, the Appalachian Trail has earned a reputation as one of the most popular long-distance footpaths in the world.
The AT's status as a true icon is evident in recent efforts to develop an "International Appalachian Trail" that eventually will extend from Canada across the Atlantic to Iceland, Scandinavia and Great Britain before dipping south to France, Portugal, and finally, Morocco.
The rational behind the International Appalachian Trail is that the Appalachian chain in North America actually extends undersea to emerge as the Caledonides Mountains of Scandinavia and Scotland, and the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa.
Officials with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy are quick to point out that the International Appalachian Trail is a side trail of the AT, not an extension of the official Maine-to-Georgia route.
But Mark Wenger, executive director of the ATC, said the Appalachian Trail's worldwide name recognition is a valuable asset as the trail heads into the 21st century.
"We are blessed that we have a famous symbol to work with," Wenger said. "The AT garners tremendous support across political divides. It's something everyone can rally around. ...
We're now looking at it as a laboratory to monitor climate change, a vehicle for training teachers, and an economic engine that can help communities vie for hard-fought ecotourism and economic development dollars. ..."