Monday, February 26, 2007

Weekend Several: Trails of Appalachia

Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps help construct the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (Image from the National Park Service's online pamphlet, "Highways in Harmony: The Skyline Drive")

This evening I typed the word “trail” into my computer and cranked up the electro-whiz-bang thesaurus. Soon thereafter that rare breed of ancient reptile vomited, ahem, “path, track, way, road, footpath, route, footprints, footsteps, trace, imprints, marks, trajectory, stream, and line” and so on. Why, you ask, was I looking for synonyms of said term? To make you ask questions.

Okay, that and because I was looking for inspiration. How should I start my blog entry on the subject of trails in Appalachia? I thought about talking the big talk about how trails, whether they are institutionalized or not, are the physical manifestations of our progress in life. I considered quoting well-known quips, “getting there is half the fun,” and what have you. Heck, I considered posturing cleverly, citing cyclopean monstrosities from The Odyssey and dog-headed men from The Travels of Marco Polo and the occasional demon in the Inferno and a whole host of other fictional and non-fiction travelogues. But what I decided to open with was a different tack, an alternative salvo. What I settled on, though, were pilgrimages.

A pilgrim is defined as a religious devotee who travels to a shrine or holy place, a traveler who is attempting to fulfill some sacred quest. Their quests draw meaning from two different elements. On the one hand, a pilgrim seeks to arrive at a destination, a place that holds intrinsic symbolic value. On the other hand, a point often forgotten these days, the process of moving from one’s home to his destination carries value in and of itself. Ideally, the process of moving from point A to point B (often interspersed by a series of holy places) is a mystical process, a symbolic progression from normality to, well, something special, something different. After traveling down the trail of a pilgrimage, a pilgrim is meant to be transformed – he or she is reborn, metaphorically or literally. In pilgrimages, our homes are the wombs, and the trails, well, they are our birth canals, squeezing and pushing us until suddenly we have the ability to take the free air at our destination.

All of that said, Appalachia is a place known for its trails. Some of these follow the lines of the mountains themselves, others their valleys, tracing the outline traced by the Deity when continents collided before things that flew had feathers or things that walked had hair. Some of them follow the paths of our ancestors – some of whom were fleeing something, some of whom were seeking liberty, some of whom were literally dragged in chains, and some of whom were driven from land they had farmed and built upon and fought for over uncounted centuries. Some of our trails trace the evolution of the American culture, the convergence of European, Asian, African, and native American physical and artistic cultures, the birth of food cultures and musical cultures and language cultures from incredibly ancient roots.

I want to bring a few of these trails to your attention, and I have a couple of motives. Sure, I think they’re interesting. And yes, I want to encourage tourism in Appalachia, especially in areas, um . . . off the beaten path. Oi. But beside that I want to encourage a discussion. What other pilgrimages should we Appalachians have, where else should we carve trails, or merely reinvigorate those that already exist? Add’m to the commentary and I’ll update this entry accordingly. . . .

The Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Appalachian Trail Museum Society

National Park Service on the AT

Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

Update! (Thanks to Mike Mason) Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

Purebound on the AT

Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

Trail Journals


The Blue Ridge Music Trail

The Blue Ridge Music Trail

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

The National Park Service on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Coal Heritage Trail

The National Coal Heritage Area

Wonderful West Virginia, “Coal Heritage Trail”

The Crooked Road

The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

The Roanoke Times, “Going Down the Crooked Trail”, “The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail”

The Washington Post, “Twists and Twangs: Virginia Plots its Musical Heritage Along a ‘Crooked Road’”

The Hatfield & McCoy Trails

Hatfield & McCoy Trails

The New River Trail

The New River Trail Virginia State Park

The Midland Trail

The Midland Trail National Scenic Highway


Skyline Drive

Mile by Mile

The National Park Service's "Highways in Harmony: The Skyline Drive"

Skyline Drive Historic District


The Trail of Tears

National Trail of Tears Association

North Carolina Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association

Tennessee Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association

Sarah Vowell on This American Life

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail


Washington Heritage Trail

The Washington Heritage Trail

Washington Heritage Trail in Morgan County

West Virginia Hiking Trail Itineraries

The Wilderness Road

Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association

Wilderness Road Virginia State Park



Mike Mason said...

You've linked to the parent page but I thought you would enjoy this one.

This group maintains the Appalachian Trail near your old homestead.

Our Goblin Market said...

Upon reading this post the first thing that came to mind was one of my favorite books, one I have spoken of often, titled The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. I am sure that many can look at this work and understand what it means to be on a path. This book is also a great resource even for Freemasons. Great post Eric. I am definitely ready for some spring hikes.