Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Appalachian Trail Museum to Open
At Pine Grove Furnace State Park

The Appalachian Trail Museum, a decade in the making, has reached an agreement to occupy the Old Mill building at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. The grand opening for the museum, which will be the first hiking museum in the county, is expected to be on National Trails Day, June 5, 2010.

The 200-year-old grist mill, in the historic district of the park, is within two miles of the current midpoint of the Appalachian Trail. The building is immediately adjacent to Pine Grove General Store and near the Ironmasters Hostel, both popular stops for hikers. The store is the location for the Half Gallon Club in which hikers attempt to eat an entire half gallon of ice cream in a single sitting.

Over the next year the inside of the building will be renovated to conform to the uniform construction code and to be adapted for use as a museum. The building is owned by the park and currently contains some displays and in the past served as a visitors’ center but has been lightly used for years.

Restoration work will be done largely by volunteers under the leadership of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s North Chapter “Yankee Clippers” crew. Other members of the trail community have volunteered to help and additional volunteers are welcome. Work is expected to begin this fall and be completed over the winter.

Preparations for the initial exhibits are also underway. Exhibits initially will occupy one floor of the building until additional renovations are completed. The opening exhibits are expected to feature the Earl Shaffer Shelter and artifacts from other early hikers including Grandma Gatewood. Also planned is a children’s discovery area to introduce children to the A.T. and outdoor activities. The museum will include an inside and outside story telling center to welcome hikers and give visitors a chance to hear directly about trail experiences. The museum’s current exhibit, featuring the artifacts of Myron Avery and Benton MacKaye, is expected to remain in Harpers Ferry.

The museum also will display on computers the more than 12,000 thru-hiker photos taken at ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry since 1979. The photo project, with support from a grant by the Quimby Foundation and in cooperation with ATC, includes a website where all the pictures will be accessible.  The website is expected to be completed this summer and can be reached through the ATC site, www.appalachiantrail.org. Terry Harley-Wilson, the museum’s vice president and curator, arranged for the individual scanning and preservation of each photo. More information and forms granting permission to display individual photos are available by writing to atmuseum@yahoo.com.

At first, the museum will operate on weekends in the spring and fall and five afternoons per week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This schedule is intended to match current park visitation patterns. Also, the building currently has only a portable space heater. The museum society is looking for volunteers to staff the building and others to do programs such as talks, nature walks and demonstrations of outdoor skills with an emphasis on programming for children. The museum society is continuing to collect artifacts. More information is available at the museum’s website, www.atmuseum.org, and info@atmuseum.org.

This summer the museum society launched a fund-raising campaign to pay for materials for the building renovation and for exhibits. Contributions can be made to the A.T. Museum Society, which is an independent, tax exempt charitable group.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Appalachian Trail at the Smithsonian

Earl Shaffer Exhibit

On Friday the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History opened an exhibit on Earl Shaffer and the Appalachian Trail. The exhibit features some of Earl's artifacts, like the boots he wore on his pioneering 1948 thru-hike of the A.T. and the journal he kept as well as the slides he took along the trail. The exhibit does a great job of capturing Earl's feat and his life. An added feature of the exhibit are several interactive maps of the trail. By touching a spot on the map one gets a diary entry and photo from that spot. The exhibit runs in the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery through October 11.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Great Saunter

Walk Around Manhattan

Since 1985, a group called the Shorewalkers has been holding a walk around the shoreline of Manhattan every year, in recent years on the first Saturday in May. The Great Saunter is 32 miles, mostly flat, and always interesting.

I've done it three times, including last year. I was younger and in better shape for the first two times. But last year I had my fastest time, 11 hours. As I walked I met someone and then another couple of people and the four of us walked much of the way together. I was the slowest in the group but the gravitational pull of the others carried me along.

In the early years of the Great Saunter, a lot of it involved walking on city streets and along railroad tracks. Even that was fun. It goes through all sorts of neighborhoods and you'd see lots of interesting characters. Now most of the west side is on good paths close to the Hudson. The northern end takes you through parks and some city streets. Once you get back by the East River, again most of it is close to the shore.

In total, probably two-thirds of the route is on paths close to rivers and much of it is surprisingly beautiful. It's a great experience, starting off with 1,000 people and running into all sorts of people along the way. The Shorewalkers usually end at a bar and even if you're a teetotaler after 32 miles the medicinal effects of a beer are substantial.

The walk begins at the South Street Seaport and continues along the Battery passing the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty. New paths take you through gardens in Battery Park City and by the Chelsea Piers. Along the way are views of Midtown Manhattan and the far reaches of New Jersey.

At the end of the walk the Brooklyn Bridge comes into view and no matter how tired and sore you are at that point you know you've just about made it. Of course, on any city walk, temptation lurks at every corner with buses, subways and taxis waiting to whisk you away. But even if you only make it part of the way, it's a fun event. It begins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday May 2 at the South Street Seaport.

Shorewalkers -- Great Saunter

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hiking the Long Path -- New York

Hiking in My Backyard

This weekend I returned to a stretch of the Long Path that I last hiked 25 years ago. I stayed away so long because on the surface, it's uninviting. For nearly two miles the trail runs parallel to the Palisades Interstate Parkway, a four lane road that is often within twenty feet of the trail. Even so, once I got into the woods I found myself on a soft surface of pine needles and then began crisscrossing pleasant streams. I was even amused to be on a hiking trail in the woods and watching the traffic whiz by while seeing hubcaps propped up against trees and a few burnt out wrecked cars.

Leaving this stretch, I began the steep but short climb up Cheesecote Mountain, partly eased when the trail took old woods roads. After passing a largely lifeless new housing development that now dominates the top of the mountain, I began circling Cheesecote Pond. Here I got my reward for tackling this stretch of trail: I came up close to three wild turkeys. I have never been so close for so long to wild turkeys in the woods. It was definitely the highlight of the day. Just beyond I saw my first blue jay of the season.

While it's not a stretch of trail that I'll tackle often, this experience drives home the point to me that every trail has something to commend it if we keep an open mind about the experience.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Harriman Hikes - West Mountain

West Mountain -- A Wild Part of Harriman Park

The hills looked so barren in Harriman Park only hours before the biggest snowstorm of the season. By today, there was close to a foot of snow on the ground. On this hike to the west of Bear Mountain, I climbed West Mountain on the steep Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, covered the west ridge on the Timp-Torne and Appalachian Trails and descended by the equally steep A.T. It was quite a treat to see the icy cascades in the streams and hear the water falling freely. While it was a gloomy day, the views were good and I was able to see many peaks that will soon be obscured by the spring foliage. The second picture is of Bear Mountain.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Great Project

(hiking on Howell Mountain in northern Harriman State Park, N.Y. photo by Charlie Duane)

For 2008, I set a goal of hiking all the marked trails in Harriman State Park. It was a goal that I set casually but it turned into a project that was one of the highlights of my year. In every way I miscalculated. The project turned out to be much, much harder than I expected. I also enjoyed it much more than I ever expected. I discovered the park -- a place I'd been hiking in for 28 years -- in a new and much more fulfilling way. I got in the best physical shape I'd been in for 23 years (I can date it precisely to the birth of my oldest child). And I hiked more and enjoyed it more than I had in a quarter century. Perhaps most unexpected, a group of friends hiked many of the trails with me and that made it an even more wonderful experience.

I began hiking in Harriman on Jan. 12 on the Pine Meadow Trail and finished on Dec. 14 on the Nurian Trail near Southfields. Other than January, I did at least three hikes every month and it took me a total of 57 hikes to finish all of the trails. Nearly every hike was harder and took longer than I expected when I studied the maps and looked over the guidebooks. Many times I grew exhausted and cut short a hike. Frequently I lost the trail and had to retrace my steps or had to search for the route. Finding the trailheads was often even harder.

My simple goal turned into a powerful motivator. On days when the weather was iffy or I was tired or it was getting late, I dragged myself into the woods to cover a blank spot on the map. After each hike,  I colored in that stretch of trail on the map and I always looked forward to that simple ceremony.

Few of the miles turned out to be disappointing. To the contrary, I gained a new appreciation for how wild and remote much of the park is and how varied is the terrain. In the past, like most visitors, I'd frequented a few sections of the park that were convenient to parking lots or had dramatic natural features. I was astonished at how many wonderful parts of the park I'd missed over the years. It never failed to surprise me how quickly I got away from the crowds and noise and into some really beautiful areas.

Often I hiked late in the day and then I had the woods to myself. Traveling alone I came across a lot of wildlife. I generally stopped counting the deer after I'd seen a dozen. I saw more wild turkeys this year than I'd seen in 30 years of hiking combined.

One thing I learned early and often. The terrain in Harriman is rugged. My wife, Frieda, often requested flat or easy hikes. Rarely could I comply. There are some easy miles in the park but many of these are on unmarked woods roads and these I used only to connect to sections of marked trails. More often I faced steep and rugged climbs on rocks. Some climbs, like the one up Pyngyp Mountain, are quite steep for hiking trails. Many other sections have frequent short and rugged climbs on rocks.

On the steep climb up the Cornell Mine Trail on a hot day in June we worried that one member of our group might have a heart attack. But he made it through in fine shape. We did take the precaution of bringing a cardiologist along. Later in the hike we spent 15 minutes watching a snake climb up a tree in the abandoned hamlet of Doodletown. That day we celebrated two birthdays, including mine, with a surprise treat of watermelon and brownies at the end of the hike. The week before we'd ended a hike at St. John's in the Wilderness, where they were having a strawberry festival and making strawberry shortcakes.

In between those two wonderful hikes, my son Eli and I got caught in a fierce downpour on a stretch of the Appalachian Trail south of the William Brien Shelter. After not seeing anyone for awhile, I told Eli that we won't see anyone on an evening like this unless it's some thru-hikers. Sure enough, in a few minutes three thru-hikers without rain-gear and laughing rounded the bend heading for the shelter.

Another highlight for me was doing a few hikes with my oldest son Seth. He'd just graduated from college and was heading for two years in Africa with the Peace Corps and this was treasured time. I was also pleased that after six months of frequent tough hikes I could keep up with my sons at least for a few hours.

Early in the year I thought that I could complete all the trails in twenty hikes and that I would be finished by mid-summer. Gradually that kept getting pushed out. I kept trying to fit in two hour hikes during the long days of summer and doing longer hikes most weekends when I was free. By August, I began to think that this would stretch well into mid-fall. By September I began thinking I'd really need to push to finish in November.

I set a goal of finishing on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when much of my family and many of our friends would be around. I decided to do a last hike of climbing up Bear Mountain from the south on the A.T. It's a sentimental favorite of mine: we got married on top and I've hiked it frequently over the years. We did do the hike that day and it was a beautiful and sunny day with a brisk wind. We climbed the Perkins Tower on top and had great views. Afterwards, we had a party but I wasn't done just yet.

I still had many more places on my map to fill in. There were lots of little stretches of trails scattered about. For some I had to hike several miles in before I got to the missing stretch. I got to one trailhead and found it plastered with no parking signs and had to go in from the other side of the mountain.

I began using every minute of daylight on the weekends as the days grew short. Because of other commitments I realized that Sunday Dec. 14 would be the last day I could count on. The final weekend I ended up doing five stretches each day and driving in between and covered 16 miles a day.

With daylight fading I had trouble finding the trailhead for the Nurian Trail in Southfields, my final segment of trail. I finally stopped at the police station to ask for directions. With only 45 minutes of daylight remaining, I set out for the last stretch, crossing the railroad tracks, the swollen Ramapo River and the New York Thruway on a high pedestrian bridge. I only had a stretch of several hundred yards of the Nurian to complete and I grew excited at the prospect of finishing. It had been a tiring day of many climbs on icy and snowy trails but as dusk settled in I was pleased at what I'd accomplished and glad that I'd stumbled into a great project.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Powerful Experience

Appalachian Trail Talk

This Saturday I will be giving an A.T. talk and slideshow in Manhattan at the Appalachian Mountain Club annual dinner at Connolly's Pub on East 47th Street.

In thinking about what to talk about, I've realized how my presentations over the years have gravitated to one theme-- how an A.T. thru-hike for many people is a life-changing experience. I enjoy dayhiking and get to the woods as frequently as I can. Last year that was every weekend that I was at home. And I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. But a series of day hikes simply isn't as powerful and intense an experience as being isolated in the Appalachian Mountains for months on end.