I had heard of the Appalachian Trail, and even walked a very small portion of it, but really had no knowledge of what it actually encompasses. How huge it really is... in more ways than just distance.
When I realized that we were going to be in the neighborhood of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, plans were made immediately to stop for a visit.
We had so much fun! It is a really small building packed full of displays, trail memorabilia, maps, even a partial replica of one of the trail shelters that you can crawl into...or sit in to do your Jr. Ranger book :). And yes! They even have a Jr. Ranger program there! Who knew???
The folks that were running the place the day we visited were some of the nicest we have met anywhere. They clearly each have a passion for the AT and were happy to share their extensive trail knowledge with the kids.
We were introduced to a few thru hikers that were in that day, and they were also really friendly and happy to answer our questions. For instance, drinking water...one man told us that he always collects it from a clean (looking) source along the trail. Adds some iodine to purify and kool-aid to flavor and drinks up. We learned about adjusting your pack tighter on your shoulders or waist depending on the terrain. And we were also told about some fun tricks involving ice cream on the trail and how to make sparks...I'm not telling the secrets, though. You'll have to ask Wolf about those.
Yes, Wolf. That is the trail name of one of the guys we met that day. We also met Old School. Did you know that hikers adopt trail names? I didn't. Any of ya'll have a trail name? I think it's fun :).
Anyway, we spent way more time there than I thought we would. The guys put a movie on for the kids to watch. It was loooong. They watched a good bit of it, but their attention started wandering and one by one they scattered around the building to take in the displays instead. Which was fine, it's a very laid back place.
There were a few hikers coming in while we were there. The AT runs close by and the conservancy provides a lounge area where they can use the internet, the facilities to clean up a bit, chill on the couch and eat a candy bar, whatever. There are also some bins where hikers can leave items to swap. Obviously weight in your pack is very important, so if you see that you have extra of something (shoes, clothing, even food), you can leave it there for the next guy to take that has a use for it. I just love systems like that...I wish more places in this world operated that way!
By the time we were done with the guided tour, I had three boys ready to strap on a pack and start walking. I hope they do it one day! It is a huge accomplishment...the southern end of the trail starts in Georgia and runs north for 2,180 miles through fourteen states to end in Maine. A walk that takes between 5 and 7 months to complete if you do it continuously.
Oh, and just in case you didn't know, there aren't bathrooms out there on the trail. That was the deal breaker for me. Call me what you will, I don't care, but I just don't think that'll be happening. I will stick to section hikes, thankyouverymuch.
If you are in the Harper's Ferry area and have wanted to learn more about the AT or just about hiking in general, you should plan to stop at the ATC. It was the highlight of our day :).