Each year beginning in late-March, approximately 3,000 people will set out to northbound thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), and only about 20% will complete the trail from start to finish in one attempt. Millions of others will section-hike portions of the trail this year. The A.T. is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world measuring in at 2,190 miles. Traveling through 14 states, the A.T. starts in Georgia and ends in Maine.
Along the way, hikers will be treated to many different types of trees that will provide shade, protection from the elements and a place to hang their food overnight while they sleep (to keep it safe from bears and other furry friends). In honor of this epic, months-long journey, this month’s Things We Heart is dedicated to information about the trees hikers can expect to encounter along the A.T.:
The A.T. is synonymous with the white blaze marking its route – most are placed on trees, however some are on rocks and boulders. There are approximately 165,000 white blazes marking the trail, averaging one blaze every 70 feet! Many thru-hikers forego carrying maps because the trail is so well marked. Read 20 other interesting A.T. statistics.
Before the white blaze, Native Americans developed a custom of marking trails in the forest by bending saplings and securing them together in such a way to point in the direction of the route along the trail. These historically have been called “Indian Trail Trees” in North Georgia, where the Mountain Stewards have managed the Trail Tree Project to document the history and location of these trees. While the actual path of the A.T. has changed since its inception in 1937, some of the few remaining trail trees that were formed even before the A.T. can still be seen along parts of the trail.
Hikers in Dutchess County, New York, will encounter the Dover Oak. This white oak joined the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Big Tree Register in 2012 because it measures a 251-inch circumference (that’s almost 21 feet!) and stands at an impressive 114 feet tall. While its age can’t be confirmed without counting the rings in its core, it is estimated that the Dover Oak is 300 years old.
Another giant tree along the A.T. is the Keffer Oak in Simmonsville, Virginia. This massive oak was supposedly named for Rex Keffer, who once owned the land this tree stands on. Its circumference is 235 inches, and stands at 59 feet tall. It is also estimated to be over 300 years old.
Invasive Pests and Plants
According to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network, as of March 1, 2018, the emerald ash borer (EAB) has been detected in every state that the A.T. travels through, with the exception of Maine. It has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America and continues to spread. Learn more about EAB on TreeCareTips.org.
Thru-hikers starting in Georgia may unknowingly transport Japanese Stilt Grass, an invasive species, along the A.T. What looks like a nice, grassy space to set up camp for the night might be home to this plant. The seeds can travel on a hiker’s shoes and clothes, and can even end up on the bottom of their tent. This mat-forming annual grass is shade tolerant, and can out-compete native plants and cover the forest floor, suppressing the growth of new trees and contributing to deforestation. Except for Maine, stiltgrass can be found in all states that the A.T. travels through.