In this first episode of The Green Tunnel we tell the story of the founding of the Appalachian Trail, from Benton MacKaye’s proposal for the trail in 1921, to the creation of the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) in 1925, to the completion of the trail in 1937. We also look closely at the rivalry between MacKaye and Myron Avery, in many ways the most important chairman of the ATC in the trail’s history. MacKaye and Avery had two very different visions of what the trail should be and that difference of opinion ultimately resulted in MacKaye being exiled from the management of the trail for almost two decades. How and why that happened, and how that debate continues today, is at the heart of our story in this episode.

Guest Bios

Jeffrey H. Ryan

Jeff Ryan is the author of Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, and the Rivalry That Built the Appalachian Trail (2017) and Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-Year Hike on America’s Trail (2016) that chronicles his section-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Ryan is currently completing a history of the founding of the Wilderness Society and has published six other books, mostly on outdoor adventures.

Larry Anderson

Larry Anderson is the author of the definitive biography of Benton MacKaye: Benton MacKaye: Conservationist, Planner, and Creator of the Appalachian Trail (2002). He also wrote the collection of essays, Peculiar Work: Writing about Benton MacKaye, Conservation, Community (2012). In his interview, Anderson described spending 18 years researching the life of MacKaye, mostly in the MacKaye papers at the Dartmouth College Library, and of the complexities of writing about a man who lived more than 90 years and worked in so many varied agencies and with so many different organizations.

Sarah Mittlefehldt

Sarah Mittlefehldt is an environmental historian and a professor in the Earth, Environmental & Geographical Sciences (EEGS) Department, at Northern Michigan University. She is the author of Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics (2013), the definite study of the interconnections between environmental politics and the creation and eventual completion of the Appalachian Trail. Mittlefehldt completed the research for her book while thru-hiking the AT, stopping at trail club archives as she worked her way from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin.

Transcript

MILLS KELLY: Hello, my name is Mills Kelly and you are listening to The Green Tunnel, a podcast on the history of the Appalachian Trail created at R2 Studios at George Mason University.

[energetic traditional music]

KELLY: Before we get to our story, I need to say a quick word about naming. Our podcast is called The Green Tunnel because that’s the name that hikers gave the Appalachian Trail years ago, for reasons that are pretty obvious if you’ve spent any time on the trail.

KELLY: And while we’re on the subject of naming, I want to acknowledge that some people know the trail as to Appa-LAY-chian Trail, while others notice the Appa-LAH-chian Trail. I’m originally from Franklin County, Virginia, where it is most definitely the Appa-LAH-chian Trail. But I’ve lived most of my life in the Washington, D.C. area where most folks say Appa-LAY-chian. Throughout this podcast, you’re going to hear both pronunciations, and I hope you won’t take offense if we don’t say it the way that you prefer.

KELLY: I also want to mention that during this episode, there will be a brief discussion of the sensitive topic of suicide, which may not be appropriate for some listening.

KELLY: Now, let’s get to the story of how the Appalachian Trail began.

[energetic traditional music ends]

KELLY: In early November 1935, Benton MacKaye wrote a brief letter to Myron Avery. MacKaye was the man who had dreamed up the Appalachian Trail 14 years earlier. Avery was the man who was making MacKaye’s dream into a reality. The relationship between the two men was tense at that particular moment, and in his letter, MacKaye made it very clear what it was that they were arguing about. “You are for a connected trail, whether or not wilderness. I am for a wilderness trail, whether or not connected.”

KELLY: MacKaye wanted the AT to be a trail where hikers could vanish into nature for a few hours or a few days. [nature sounds] It would be a place for health, a place to breathe clean air, a place to leave the noise and the clamor of the city behind. Avery wanted one continuous trail all the way from Maine to Georgia, a place where hikers could test themselves, a place for exercise in nature. [sounds of hiker walking, birds in the forest] For MacKaye, the trail was an ideal. It was a place he liked to talk about and write about. But it wasn’t a place he visited all that often. For Avery, the trail was a job. A job he did when his regular work we could ended. It was a place he visited constantly.

KELLY: Their clashing visions of what the Appalachian Trail should be boiled over in late 1935. Ever since, the leaders of the trail project and hikers on the trail have debated the same issue that divided MacKaye and Avery. In this moment when tens of thousands of people have gone to the AT to escape Covid quarantines for a few hours or a few days, news stories abound about the trail being “loved to death.”

WDBJ 7 News, October 23, 2020: “Since Labor Day, Roanoke County police have had to tow 25 cars near the McAfee Knob trailhead. Fourteen of those were last Saturday alone.”

Maine Public Radio, September 7, 2015: “Baxter State Park is also known for something else that makes it special, the final section of the Appalachian Trail. Baxter State Park director Jensen Bissell says some are violating wilderness park rules when they climb Mount Katahdin, hiking in large groups for example, relieving themselves too close to the trail and not cleaning up, drinking and smoking pot at the summit and generally whooping it up. Some of those concerns include erosion, litter, and overuse, just to name a few. It’s a double-edged sword though, because local leaders want visitors because they boost the economy, but they don’t want people to love the trail to death.”

[soft fiddle music]

KELLY: At their heart, these stories are as old as the Appalachian Trail, as old as the dispute between two of the most prominent founders of the trail. In today’s episode of The Green Tunnel, we’re going to find out how we got to that moment in 1935 when the leaders of the trail community had to decide, was it more important to have a trail that was wild, or was it more important to have a trail that was long?

[fiddle music ends]

KELLY: The thing about Benton MacKaye was that he was one of those people who was always coming up with big ideas for making the world a better place. That MacKaye should be that way was really no surprise because he was the son of a true 19th century impresario, Steele MacKaye, a playwright, an actor and a promoter.

JEFF RYAN: He’s a really fascinating person from a really fascinating family. His father Steele MacKaye had 17 patents. He was a very inventive guy and a playwright who was an idea guy. And what’s really interesting as it relates to Benton is that his father had a series of roller coaster rides where he would have a great idea, for example, bringing Buffalo Bill Cody to Madison Square Garden to put on a Wild West show that he wrote and made boatloads of money, and then he’d come up with another idea, fund it with his money and lose it all.

KELLY: That was Jeff Ryan, the author of a biography of Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery. Following his father’s death, MacKaye’s childhood was anything but conventional. He bounced around between Washington, D.C. and the family home in Massachusetts, and at times was essentially educating himself rather than being in school.

LARRY ANDERSON: My name is Larry Anderson. I’m the author of a biography of Benton MacKaye called Benton MacKaye: Conservationist, Planner and Creator of the Appalachian Trail. So, he had an unconventional education as a kid. He was bouncing around different communities, schools, he was sort of self-educated almost. Some years as far as I could tell, he wasn’t in school. Or the family would move to Washington. He spends the year at age 14, he spends most of the winter in the Smithsonian. He’s a truant. He’s working in the labs of the Smithsonian, and the guys see him in there every day, and they invite them into the labs. He’s working, sorting shells, and so forth at age 13.

KELLY: And throughout his life, really from childhood until he died, MacKaye was always aware that his economic circumstances were tenuous. Sometimes there was money. Most of the time there wasn’t. But he did go off to Harvard, where he got a degree in forestry. And before long, was hired by a brand new federal agency, the U.S. Forest Service, to help with watershed management planning. For the next four decades, MacKaye would be in and out of federal service, with the Forest Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the U.S. Department of Labor. But he never seemed to be able to make any of those jobs stick. One year he would have a great job doing interesting things. The next year, he would be back looking for work again. [jaunty 1920s music] Like many progressives of that era, what he did learn in those years of federal service was a real appreciation for the role of government in changing the world. According to historian Sarah Mittlefehldt:

SARAH MITTLEFEHLDT: So, he was kind of an interesting character because he was a product of big government and felt very strongly that big government played an important role in land reform, and economic and social reform, but also really celebrated rural people and rural places. And that was really instrumental and foundational to the whole idea of the Appalachian Trail.

KELLY: In 1915, MacKaye married the feminist politician Betty Stubbs. Betty’s political activism ultimately led them to New York City, which is where everything changed for the couple in 1921. [jaunty music ends] [railroad station announcer] That year, in mid-April, the MacKaye’s went to Grand Central Station to buy tickets for a trip upstate. Grand Central was as crowded and busy as it always is on a weekday. People were rushing to catch their trains or wandering around looking for a friend they were supposed to meet. [classical piano music] The MacKaye’s were heading to a sanatorium upstate were Benton hoped that Betty would be able to recover from the psychiatric problems that had afflicted her for weeks. Unfortunately, while he was buying the tickets, Betty slipped away, and Benton never saw her again. The police came to his apartment that night to tell him that her body had been recovered from the East River. Following Betty’s suicide, MacKaye was a wreck.

KELLY: MacKaye’s friend Horace Whitaker invited him to come to his estate in the mountains of New Jersey to rest and to grieve. And while MacKaye recuperated there, he wrote up an idea that he had first proposed in 1916, a multi-state hiking trail from Mount Mitchell in North Carolina to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, with side trails along the way. It would be more than 2000 miles long, and it would span 14 states. Whitaker was the editor of the Journal of the American Institute of Architects and published the essay in his journal in October of 1921, 100 years ago this month. In that essay, MacKaye laid out a three-part vision rooted in his views about rural development, mental health, and the value of time in nature to help people deal with what he called “the problem of living” in a modern industrial society.

KELLY: He wanted the trail he proposed to help revitalize rural communities that were depopulating in the early 20th century, and he wanted workers in the big cities of the East Coast, to be able to spend some time under the trees, to get some oxygen and some quiet back into their lives.

[nature sounds, hiker walking in the forest]

Benton MacKaye on the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee, 1933. Source: University of Tennessee Special Collections. Dutch Roth Collection. All rights reserved.

KELLY: But what really captured people’s imagination was the idea of a really long hiking trail. To MacKaye’s surprise and pleasure, members of hiking clubs up and down the East Coast thought it would be wonderful to build such a trail. And in just a few years, the building of the trail he proposed began. [nature sounds end] People got excited, and they started inviting Benton to come and visit and talk about his Appalachian Trail idea. He kind of felt like a celebrity. To make sure more people noticed this big idea. MacKaye worked hard to promote it:

ANDERSON: They immediately decided to put it in a pamphlet, they start sending them around to this mailing list that MacKaye has compiled of this network that he knows.

KELLY: Still, it’s reasonable to ask why the idea for a really long hiking trail would catch on so quickly. Today, there are several long-distance hiking trails in the United States and more around the world. But in 1921, that wasn’t the case at all. There was only one, the Long Trail in Vermont, and the Green Mountain Club wouldn’t complete that trail until 1930.

[energetic traditional music]

MITTLEFEHLDT: I think it was, you know, that it was a culmination of this progressive era where people were really starting to think about the interconnections between the hinterlands and the city and connections between all of the cities along the Eastern seaboard. Kind of like they say, a lot of like historical figures get these big ideas when the timing is right. And so, I really think you know, it was it was all about the timing, I think he just kind of nailed it and was able to put together a really clear and coherent vision for the Appalachian Trail.

KELLY: In other words, MacKaye somehow managed to propose something that lots of people were already kind of thinking about, but they hadn’t managed to put into words. Excitement about the idea of an Appalachian Trail had to be translated into action. Enthusiasm didn’t build trails after all. Work was required. Hard work. [tree being chopped down] [music ends]

KELLY: By early 1925, it was clear to MacKaye and others that all the small trail building efforts that were happening needed to be coordinated. So, he did something his many years of government service had taught him how to do. He convened a meeting. But not just any meeting. [sound of several voices] The men MacKaye brought together in Washington, D.C. on March 2, 1925, were a who’s who of the American conservation movement and federal agencies concerned with land conservation. Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service was there, as was Arthur Comey, the Secretary of the New England Trail Conference. William Greeley, director of the U.S. Forest Service was there, and so was William Welch, head of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, who chaired the meeting. [voices end, gavel striking table] These guys were men of action, men who knew how to get things done, men with connections to money and the power of federal and state agencies.

KELLY: During the course of the meeting, they decided to form what they called an Appalachian Trail Conference that was a loosely organized confederation of various local trail clubs up and down the East Coast. These clubs committed themselves to coordinating their activities and to completing the building of the 2000-mile trail. In a harbinger of what was to come in just a few years, they gave Benton MacKaye no role in managing the organization that he had called into being. It was apparent to all of them that MacKaye didn’t have the managerial skill to run a sprawling organization like the Trail Conference. Instead, they gave him the task of continuing to promote the trail by giving lectures, writing stories for newspapers and magazines, things he was good at.

Benton MacKaye’s map of the Appalachian Trail for the 1925 ATC meeting. Source: Rauner Library, Dartmouth College. All rights reserved.

ANDERSON: By all accounts, he was a compelling guy to listen to. You know, Mumford said if he if he could write the way he talked, he would be better known than Mark Twain.

[banjo music]

KELLY: It didn’t take long for the trail building project to really gather steam. Almost immediately, volunteers were out in the woods, marking off sections of trail, organizing things, getting dirty and having fun.

ANDERSON: One of the reasons it caught fire partly because there was the, again the economic conditions and the sort of freedom. There’s no war, there’s no depression in the 1920s. People have cars, people had the leisure and the means to do this kind of recreational work, but that work began instantly almost. People get the idea so we can do that!

KELLY: But if anything disappointed MacKaye during this time, and if it did disappoint him, he didn’t talk about it, it would have been that his trail, a project he hoped would provide industrial workers an opportunity to spend time in the forests turned into a middle class playground. Middle class people, not workers, were the ones who had cars and leisure time and money. And then, in 1927, just when everything was going so well, a new guy arrived on the scene. A new guy who would transform the Appalachian Trail. That man’s name was Myron Avery.

[banjo music ends]

[sounds of a harbor]

KELLY: Our new guy, the guy who transformed the Appalachian Trail was born in Lubec, Maine in February 1899, which made him 20 years younger than Benton MacKaye. They were truly from different generations.

RYAN: He came from a working-class family in as far Down East as we say in Maine as you can get. It’s way down on the eastern shore of Maine. You can see Canada from there. It’s right across the harbor. [harbor sounds end] And when he grew up there were 12 sardine canning plants in his town, and his father was the manager of one of the plants, and that taught him about hard work. It also taught him that he didn’t want anything to do with living near a sardine factory. So, he started hanging out at Mount Katahdin, well inland, which ended up being the northern terminus of the trail largely to his credit.

KELLY: Higher education was Avery’s way to escape Lubec and the sardine business. He first went off to Bowden College, and then like MacKaye went on to Harvard. Unlike MacKaye, Avery studied law. In addition to graduating from Harvard, the two men shared something else. Like MacKaye, Avery wanted to do something big, something that he would be known for. Something that would leave a lasting legacy. In fact, Avery and MacKaye actually had a lot in common.

ANDERSON: They’re both sort of mid-level federal bureaucrats, you know, they never had big jobs. They had important significant jobs, but they never had the big job in their lives elsewhere. This was where they could accomplish something.

KELLY: Like MacKaye. Avery migrated to Washington, D.C. after graduate school and went into federal service, in his case as a maritime attorney for the federal government. While in Washington, Avery joined an organization called the Wildflower Preservation Society, which was really a hiking club. But in 1927, Avery heard about the Appalachian Trail. Right away, he and several members of that hiking club decided to form a new organization that would be dedicated to building sections of the AT nearby. [tree being chopped down] They called that new organization the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, the PATC, and they set out to start scouting and then building new sections of the trail in Northern Virginia. The very first section that they worked on just happens to be the closest section of the AT to the studio where we created this episode. [tree chopping ends]

KELLY: Remember how I said that the founders of the ATC knew from the start that Benton MacKaye should not be in charge? Well, the founders of the PATC knew from the start that Myron Avery should be in charge. In fact, no one questioned the idea that Avery had to be in charge. He had to take no prisoners approach to everything he did in his life, and a kind of over-the-top energy level that wore everyone else out. Reflecting back on his father’s life in an interview in 2013, Hal Avery, Myron Avery’s youngest son said:

HAL AVERY: I was aware that when he spoke that was probably the final word. And the A1 type personality, the intensity of everything that he was involved in, whether it was the trail, or certainly the admiralty reflected that, that intensity and commitment. And I think that had a great deal to do with the stress that ultimately led to the three heart attacks that wiped him out.

[banjo music returns]

KELLY: No one can keep up with Myron Avery. So, they elected him the president of the PATC a position that he held until 1940. [banjo music ends] No one seems to know why. But Avery decided that the Appalachian Trail was the big thing that he’d been looking for in his life. And before very long, he was volunteering to help the chairman of the ATC, Judge Arthur Perkins, with the day-to-day management of the trail project. As luck would have it, not long after Avery arrived on the scene, Perkins’ health began to decline, and as it did, Avery took on more and more responsibility at the ATC. Eventually, Perkins convinced the leadership of the Conference that Avery should just take over altogether, which he did without being asked twice.

[banjo music returns]

KELLY: In addition to working like a demon to get the trail completed from Georgia to Maine, Avery and his partner in crime, an attorney named Jean Stephenson, who acted as the ATC’s Administrative Director, helped organize a number of new trail clubs, mostly south of the Potomac River, and began a relentless campaign to promote the AT to the American public. They wanted as many people as possible to hike on the trail.

KELLY: From the time Avery took over the leadership of the ATC until 1935, things went really well. The trail clubs up and down the route either created new sections of trail or linked their existing trails to the AT—trails like the southern end of the Long Trail in Vermont, or the Appalachian Mountain Club’s trails in the White Mountains.

[banjo music ends]

[sound of hiking]

KELLY: It’s important to know that Myron Avery was a stickler about a lot of things—trail blazes, shelter plans, the design of backwoods privies, and the writing of trail guides. But the thing he was the most obsessive about was accurate measurements of distances along the trail. He never trusted anyone else’s measurements. And so he was out on the trail all the time, pushing a measuring wheel in front of him. That wheel is essentially an old bicycle wheel with a steel handle that had a distance counter attached to it. And it is in virtually every photograph of Myron Avery that I’ve ever seen. It was like an extension of his personality. By the way, we have some historical video of Avery with his wheel posted in the show notes.

[hiking sounds end]

[banjo music returns]

Myron Avery with his wheel on the Appalachian Trail. Source: Archives of the Potomac Appalachian Trail. All rights reserves.

KELLY: Not long ago, I heard that the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace, Pennsylvania, right at the halfway point in the trail, had that wheel. So, I thought I have to go see this thing that’s in all those photographs.

[banjo music ends]

KELLY: Standing in front of Avery’s wheel, I’m kind of intimidated by it because it’s big, way bigger than anything I would push in front of me on the trail. I mean, you see it in the photographs and you see it in the movies, and you know that it’s big, but seeing it up close as a hiker, I can’t imagine walking up the trail, pushing this thing in front of me over rocks and tree roots and blowdowns and through streams. It can’t be light. The forks and the handle are made out of steel, and, you know, the contraption where the counters are is made out of either tin or steel. The whole thing probably weighs 10 pounds and sure you’re pushing it in front of you and all that. But still, you can’t use trekking poles you can’t use a hiking stick. You have to just use this wheel I guess, for your balance.

[banjo music returns]

KELLY: I think Myron Avery would be really happy that the first thing that you see in the Myron Avery part of the Appalachian Trail Museum is his measuring wheel. For sure it was his proudest possession.

[banjo music ends]

KELLY: Myron Avery’s energy commitment and I have to say pushy personality helped make the trail a reality. But he didn’t do it all alone. Jean Stephenson, who we’ll have a lot more to say about in a future episode, managed the administrative offices of the ATC back in Washington and held things together while Avery was out in the field. Trail scouts like Walter Greene in Maine, Roy Ozmer in Georgia, and George Masa in North Carolina help find routes through the wildest parts of the mountains. Avery and Stephenson helped found a number of new trail clubs, mostly south of the Potomac River, whose members went to work marking out and building the trail. It was all coming together nicely. And then, on July 18, 1931, something happened that led to the final break between Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery.

[banjo music]

KELLY: On that day, a groundbreaking ceremony took place at the top of Swift Run Gap at the southern end of the brand new Shenandoah National Park.

[banjo music ends]

KELLY: A small crowd had gathered to watch the beginning of a road that would be known as Skyline Drive, and which would traverse the ridgeline of the new park for more than 100 miles to the north. The problem was that the Appalachian Trail already traversed that ridgeline, and the new road would obliterate much of the newly built trail. To say that Benton McKaye was distraught about this development would be quite an understatement. To MacKaye, this new road was a threat to the very idea of the Appalachian Trail as a wilderness path. He immediately set out to oppose Skyline Drive by writing letters, writing articles, and generally lobbying everyone he knew to try to put a stop to it. In 1934, he wrote that such roads, “violate the wilderness solitude, not merely here and there, but throughout their whole length.” MacKaye also lobbied the ATC leadership to take a public stand against Skyline Drive and other roads like it. To his surprise, Avery refused to back him up.

RYAN: Avery’s response was, “Oh, well, we’ll just get the Park Service to move the trail over a little bit. We’ll still have a contiguous trail. It just won’t be where it was.” He just saw this vision that he wanted to get done.

KELLY: And without Avery’s support, the ATC leadership failed to act on MacKaye’s request. Instead, Avery as the director of the National Park Service, to commit to using federal resources to reroute the AT away from the new road. Avery hoped to get help from the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps not only in Virginia, but also further south and especially in Maine. And making nice with the Park Service seemed like a good move. According to Jeff Ryan, when MacKaye learned that Avery was trying to work with the Park Service instead of opposing the road, he was incensed, so incensed that he wrote a scathing letter to the Park Service Director Arno Cammerer trying to convince him to put a stop to Skyline Drive. When Avery found out what MacKaye was up to, he tried to shut MacKaye down, basically telling him to stay out of what Avery saw as an administrative matter related to the building of the trail.

[fiddle music]

KELLY: Their dispute over Skyline Drive simmered along for a little while, finally coming to a head in 1935. At the annual meeting of the ATC, coincidentally, at Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park, which the attendees reached my car on the new Skyline Drive. MacKaye didn’t attend that meeting, which was a mistake. In his absence, Avery engineered a change the ATC bylaws that removed most of MacKaye’s supporters from the organization’s leadership and essentially gave Avery full control of the conference.

RYAN: Avery and MacKaye continued to battle over this. And within three years, they just got to a point where they realized they were never going to come to consensus, and something had to happen. MacKaye had been writing articles for national publications about stopping Skyline Drive. Meanwhile, Avery was marshalling his significant political power within the organization to basically exact a coup with which he pushed MacKaye out of the organization.

KELLY: With this new structure, Avery pushed through a resolution that committed the ATC to working with federal agencies rather than opposing them. And with that, MacKaye’s views were pushed aside for good. In a letter to Avery in November 1935, MacKaye summed up their differences.

[fiddle ends]

BENTON MACKAYE: (Nate Sleeter) “You are for connected trail, whether or not wilderness. I am for a wilderness trail, whether or not connected.”

KELLY: Avery, who never once avoided an argument, wrote MacKaye a scathing response that fractured their relationship for good. In it, he pointed out that while MacKaye sat at home in Massachusetts writing letters, Avery was out in the mountains completing the trail that MacKaye had first proposed.

MYRON AVERY: (Lincoln Mullen) “It is very pleasant to sit quietly at home and talk of primeval wilderness and to think of a trail that will make and maintain itself. But to bring such a trail into being requires hard work, hours of labor under broiling suns and pouring rains, camping and all kinds of weather as well as incessant office work in connection with guidebooks, maps, markers, publicity, and 1,000 other details. It is, don’t you think, significant that the majority of those who are loudest in their demands and in their abuse of workers have covered little of the trail and have done little physical labor on it.”

KELLY: Apparently, MacKaye had a temper too, because in his response to Avery he said,

MACKAYE: (Nate Sleeter) “For some time past, I have noticed in you a growing self-righteous, overbearing attitude, and bullying manner in your expression. Your statements to me now, of assumption, distortion, and accusation constitute a piece of insolence which confirms my former observations. In your present frame of mind, therefore, I feel that further words are futile.”

[mandolin music]

KELLY: Not surprisingly, that was the end their relationship. The two men most responsible for making the Appalachian Trail a reality never spoke again. Avery went on to finish the trail project, declaring it completed at the ATC meeting of 1937. MacKaye went into a kind of self-imposed exile from the AT and devoted his time and energy to a new project, helping found the Wilderness Society, and he spent a fair amount of time taking care of one of his sisters who was in ill health. But they did try to play nice in public.

ANDERSON: It wasn’t pretty, but publicly in their writings they weren’t sniping at each other afterwards about any of this. They were, they would occasionally pat each other on the back publicly and give each other credit and so forth. When you look at MacKaye’s writing, and Avery’s writing, especially when he didn’t have to worry about MacKaye being the messenger the Appalachian Trail story, that sometimes you can read their essays about the purpose of the Appalachian Trail and you can’t tell which guy is writing.

KELLY: Avery continued to lead the ATC until his sudden and unexpected death from a heart attack in 1952, at the age of 53. Avery left behind a wife and two sons and a 2,000 mile long hiking trail. But as one person who knew him well equipped, he also left behind a trail of bruised egos. By contrast, MacKaye lived to the ripe old age of 96, passing away only in 1975. By outliving Avery for more than two decades. He not only got to see his trail completed, he was also witness to its rapidly growing popularity.

ANDERSON: Well, I do try not to channel Benton MacKaye. I try not to say what he would think. But how could one not be gratified by knowing that your idea appealed to millions of people and inspired projects all over the world for crying out loud.

[mandolin music ends]

KELLY: That’s it for the first episode of The Green Tunnel.

[energetic music]

KELLY: This episode is produced by me Mills Kelly, and Abby Mullen, the head of our studios. It was edited and mixed by Abby. Special thanks to our guests, Jeff Ryan, Larry Anderson, and Sarah Mittlefehldt. Thanks also to the Appalachian Trail Museum for letting us visit with Myron Avery’s measuring wheel even though they were closed that day. Our music is by the award-winning musicians, Andrew Small and Ashley Watkins from Floyd Virginia. Andrew and Ash are also the hosts of Floyd Radio Hour, which if you haven’t listened to, you’re missing out. To learn more about all of our guests, see more visuals and supplemental materials, and to read a full transcript of today’s episode, visit our website at: greentunnel.rrchnm.org.

KELLY: Before we go, I’d like to ask a favor. Okay, two favors. First, we’d like to ask you to follow our show in your favorite podcast platform. And we’d also like to ask you to post about our show in your social media feeds. That really helps us grow our audience. For now, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you soon with Episode Two.

[energetic music ends]

Special Thanks

We want to give special thanks to our two voice actors, Lincoln Mullen (Myron Avery) and Nate Sleeter (Benton MacKaye), who read from our original sources.

Further Reading

Larry Anderson, Benton MacKaye: Conservationist, Planner, and Creator of the Appalachian Trail (2002)

Sarah Mittlefehldt, Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics (2013)

Jeff Ryan, Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, and the Rivalry That Built the Appalachian Trail (2017)

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