What is the Appalachian Trail? It's was originally concieved by a forester named Benton Mackaye who wrote his original plan shortly after the death of his wife in 1921. Mackaye's idea detailed a grand trail that would connect a series of farms and wilderness work/study camps for city-dwellers. In 1922, at the suggestion of Major William A. Welch, director of the Palisades International Park Commision, his idea was publicized by Raymond H. Torrey with a story in the New York Evening Post under a full page banner headline reading "A Great Trail from Maine to Georgia!"; the idea was quickly adopted by the new Palisades Interstate Park Trail Conference as their main project.
On October 7, 1923, the first section of the trail, from Bear Mountain west through Harriman State Park to Arden, New York, was opened by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. To maintain forward momentum, MacKaye called for a two day Appalachian Trail conference to be held March of 1925 in Washington, D. C.. This resulted in the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conference organization, though little progress was made on the trail for several years.
At the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s, a retired judge named Arthur Perkins and his younger associate Myron H. Avery took up the cause. Avery, who soon took over the ATC, adopted the more practical goal of building a simple hiking trail. He and MacKaye clashed over the ATC's response to a major comercial developement along the trail's path, MacKaye left the organization, while Avery was willing to simply reroute the trail.
The trail was first walked end-to-end the year before it was completed, in 1936, by Myron Avery, though not as a thru-hike. In August of 1937, the trail was completed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, and the ATC shifted its focus towards protecting the trail lands and mapping the trail for hikers. From 1938 to the end of World War II, the trail suffered a series of natural and man-made setbacks. At the end of the war, the damage to the trail was repaired.
In 1948, Earl Shaffer (Nov. 8, 1918- May 5, 2002)of York, Pennsylvania was an American outdoorsman and author known from 1948 as The Crazy One (and eventually as The Original Crazy One),brought a great deal of attention to the project by completing the fist documented thru-hike.
In 1948, he began his journey from Mt. Oglethorpe, in Georgia (the trail's southern end at the time). With sparse equiptment that would be regarded as grossly inadequate by most thru-hikers since-he used worn boots, his army rucksack, and no stove or tent- he reached Mt. Katahdin in Maine, in 124 days.
In 1965, Shaffer hiked in 99 days from Maine to Springer Mountain, which had replaced Oglethorpe as the trail's Georgia end, becoming the first person to complete a trip in both directions.
In 1998, he made another northward thru-hike (at age 79) from May 2 to October 21 (six days past official closing of the state park) in 174 days, for the 50th anniversary of his first one, with David Donaldson (known by trailname "The Spirit of '48")
Shaffer was diagnosed with liver cancer and died of its complications soon after May 5, 2002. Donaldson, his most recent thru-hike companion, was at his bedside.