This episode of The Green Tunnel shares the story of three changemakers who combined led, and continue to lead, the trail through its 100 years of history. From the earliest days with Jean Stephenson, Ruth Blackburn’s work to preserve the trail, to a new future with Sandi Marra, these leaders of the Appalachian Trail project have proven themselves pivotal in its’ history.

Guest Bios

Dave Field

Dave Field has been volunteering with the Appalachian Trail in Maine since 1954 and was the maintainer of the AT on Saddleback Mountain from 1956-2016. He has served as the president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC), on the ATC’s Board of Managers, and is a member of the Appalachian Trail Museum’s Hall of Fame. He is also a historian of the trail, working to transcribe and digitize Myron Avery’s correspondence and the papers of the MATC.

Gwen Loose

Gwen Loose is a lifelong hiker and leader in the Pennsylvania rails-to-trails movement. She is the author of We Were There Too, Pioneering Appalachian Trail Women (2020), which was developed as an extension of the thesis she completed during her graduate studies, which was in American Studies. Loose has served as the Vice President of the Appalachian Trail Museum since 2009.

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.

Sandi Marra

Sandi Marra is the current president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). She has been volunteering for and hiking on the trail for almost 40 years and has served in several leadership positions within the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the ATC. Prior to becoming ATC president in 2019 she served as the chair of the organizations board of trustees.

Jeff 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.

Transcript

MILLS KELLY: Hey, I’m Mills Kelly, the host of the Green Tunnel. If you’re already a listener, you know that we recently launched a series of short episodes about iconic locations along the Appalachian Trail. Our first short episode was on McAfee Knob. Now we’re working on one about the Lemon Squeezer in New York. But we need your help.

KELLY: We want you to post your best photos of the Lemon Squeezer on your social media and tag us so that we see them. Then we’ll feature some of the images you show us on our socials.

KELLY: All of our social media is on our website, greentunnel.rrrchnm.org. All right, let’s get to our episode.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: In the early 1930s, a young attorney from Waco, Texas moved to Washington DC to work for the Department of the Navy. Soon after her arrival, she began volunteering with the Potomac Appalachian Trail club—the PATC—then became a full- fledged member of the club in 1933.

KELLY: Like so many AT volunteers over the years, Jean Stephenson found her way to the Appalachian Trail because she loved the great outdoors. And joining a trail club like the PATC was a way to make new friends and to be part of something fun.

[Music ends]

KELLY: In today’s episode as a Green Tunnel, we’re going to hear the stories of three women who were, or are, leaders of the Appalachian Trail project. Without their contributions over the past 100 years, the AT as we know it would be a very different place.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: Gwen Loose is the author of We Were There, Too, a book that tells the stories of women like Jean, who are important to the history of the Appalachian Trail. I asked her recently why Jean devoted herself to the trail.

[Music ends]

GWENN LOOSE: She was searching for camaraderie. And that’s how she found you know, friendship in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Whatever these friends of hers were doing on weekends, in the mountains, she wanted to do it. And she wanted to make it her adult life, make it a big part of her adult life. And that’s what she did. She certainly would have had opportunities to do other things, but she made a career choice. She could have been many other things. But she chose to have that leadership role in the Appalachian Trail movement.

KELLY: Although Jean came to the AT for friendship, before long, she found herself drawn into a series of leadership positions, first with a PATC and then with the ATC. In those days, there really wasn’t much of a distinction between the two organizations. Myron Avery was the president of the PATC and Chairman of the ATC. And the two organizations shared office space and downtown Washington.

KELLY: It wasn’t always clear which organization was which. So, Jean was able to quickly establish yourself as a leader in both. Of all the individuals who have taken on leadership roles along the Appalachian Trail over the past 100 years, the person who is certainly the least famous, but who is the most deserving of fame was Jean Stephenson.

KELLY: In fact, I think it’s safe to say that without Jean, the Appalachian Trail as we know it today probably wouldn’t exist.

[Piano music begins]

KELLY: I’ve known about Jean ever since I started researching the history of the trail. The first archive I worked in was in the offices of the PATC where the documents are stored in the “Jean Stephenson Room.”

KELLY: But Jean was one of those people who it was kind of hard to get a clear picture of. For all her accomplishments, she seemed to always be hidden from view because she shunned public recognition, the best way, really the only way, to get to know Jean Stephenson was through her work. And the more you learn about Jean, the more you realize just how important her work was to her life.

[piano music ends]

KELLY: Although she was an attorney by training, she worked as an editor for the Navy. [sounds of writing and typing] When she joined the PTAC and the ATC. She quickly became the primary editor for both organizations. This editorial work provided her with the opportunity to use her considerable intellectual talents to help make the trail project a success.

KELLY: For instance, Jean wrote or edited many of the early trail guides. One of those was the first ever guide to the trail in Maine. She edited the quarterly journal of the PATC, her most lasting success though came when she founded the Appalachian Trailway News in 1939. Jean edited that newsletter, which became a magazine, for three decades. If you read AT Journeys today, it’s the direct descendant of Jean’s original creation.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: The Appalachian Trail project opened doors for many women like Jean who wanted to take on leadership roles in their local trail clubs. Not everyone wanted to be a leader of course, but working to build the trail gave many women the opportunity to volunteer with other like-minded women and men to create something new, something exciting. [music ends] Sarah Mittlefehldt is a professor at Northern Michigan University, and is the author of Tangled Roots, the Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics. I asked her about Jean and the women like her who began taking on leadership roles with the trail project in the 1930s.

SARAH MITTLEFEHLDT: You know, for many women from especially the upper classes, it was kind of an opportunity for them to step out a little bit of, you know, traditional gender roles, but it was still kind of socially accepted for them to be part of these clubs, which did serve kind of a social club function, but also had like, you know, opportunities for them to literally get out of the house and, you know, become more engaged in in the community in different ways.

KELLY: Jean was one of those women who took full advantage of the opportunities that being part of the trail community provided. And in her case, it wasn’t long before she was serving as what amounted to the shadow chairperson of the ATC. She played this role for almost two decades.

[hiking sounds]

KELLY: Myron Avery, the ATC chairman, was almost always out in the field, working with trail clubs, scouting new sections of the trail, measuring everything. It seems like he was only rarely in the ATC offices. Because he was away so often. Avery needed someone back in the office running the organization.

[office sounds]

KELLY: Someone had to oversee the organization’s considerable correspondence. Someone had to keep track of the finances and pay the bills. Someone had to work with landowners whose land the trail crossed, and someone had to keep a sharp eye on timber companies that wanted to log off ridgelines traversed by the trail. That someone was Jean Stevenson.

Jean Stephenson, keeping the office together. Source: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Jeff Ryan is the author of Blazing Ahead, a biography of Myron Avery and Benton MacKaye.

JEFF RYAN: Oh my gosh, I don’t know what he would have done without her. She was a machine just like Avery was, not only pumping out his correspondence but developing the Trailway newsletter and keeping that whole promotional piece alive.

KELLY: Avery trusted Jean so much that he even let her use his most prized possession, his measuring wheel. Over the years, I’ve found several instances of trail scouts ask him to borrow that wheel, and Avery always refused.

KELLY: But not long ago, I found some old video in the PATC archives of Jean out measuring a trail section with Avery’s wheel. In all my research over the past five or six years, I’ve never seen another picture of Avery even letting someone else touch that wheel. If you want to see that video it’s posted in our show notes on the website.

Jean Stephenson with Myron Avery’s precious measuring wheel. Source: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

KELLY: Jean and Myron had a persistent worry. They feared that after the trail was completed, no one would actually hike on it. So, the two of them launched a whole series of promotional efforts designed to get the word out.

RYAN: One thing, it’s really easy to forget now with four million people doing at least a mile of the trail every year. They were profoundly concerned that they were going to build this trail and no one was ever going to show up.

KELLY: Jean wrote marketing brochures. She and Myron wrote articles for hiking journals, outdoor magazines, and national publications like Life Magazine.

[Sounds of the outdoors]

JEAN STEPHENSON, “The Appalachian Trail in Maine” (1950) [Abby Mullen]: Tall spired, conifers wrestling silvery poplars. Graceful Maples have shaded the way, sometimes high on rocky mountain ledges, sometimes skirting swamp lands made by the busy beaver or crossing old lumber camp grounds where bears browse on raspberry bushes. There is variety and interest the length of the trail.

Jean Stephenson, writing in her trail journal, (1942). Source: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

STEPHENSON: A unique feature of the trail is that one may travel light. At the end of each day’s journey there is a sporting camp or a place where one may be met by boat from a sporting camp. So, by advanced reservations, one may spend the day in the woods and in the late afternoon reach a home-like cabin. After a swim in the lake, a change to warm clothes, and a good supper, an hour’s quiet canoeing or peaceful rest on the cabin porch is followed by sleep in a comfortable bed. In the morning after a hearty breakfast, one may take a lunch shoulder a light pack containing only personal belongings and be off down the trail, knowing that eventide will find him at another sporting camp.

KELLY: They co-produced a series of silent films that the trail clubs could borrow and show at public events up and down the trail. Jean even collaborated with the State Department to produce a film about the trail designed to counter Soviet propaganda about the lack of recreational opportunities under capitalism.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: Jean was hiking in Maine when Myron Avery died suddenly in 1952. There was no succession plan in place for the chairmanship. Jean continued to run the organization for months until a new chairman could be selected. Because of Jean, the work of the organization continued, even as the conference’s leaders had to figure out who could possibly replace their longtime chairman. Once the ATC decided on a new chairman, Jean returned to editing the Trailway News. She also continued to fight the many legal battles the ATC and the trail clubs faced when it came to protecting the trail.

[Music ends]

LOOSE: Yeah, long after Myron Avery was gone from the scene, there were many times all up and down the East Coast from Georgia to Maine, where issues would come up that were threatening the trail. And whoever was chairman of the Board of Managers at the time, if you needed to defend a certain position, whatever that might be, Jean Stephenson was called upon. She went to Maine to take on the lumber companies. She went to Georgia, the take on the years and years and years, the Georgia Club was facing a possible extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway into Georgia. And when they finally needed some political might in Washington DC to change the thinking about these mountaintop highways, they called upon Jean Stephenson. And she basically, you know, went into that battle and the project went away.

KELLY: Jeanfought to preserve the trail from those who wanted to use the mountains for their own purposes. But she also dedicated the next two decades to defending Avery’s legacy. Dave Field, a colleague of Jean’s and still an active member of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, described one argument that took place in Jean’s later years over the club’s trail guide.

DAVE FIELD: Jean was following the policy that she and Myron Avery had set was that the trail guides were services to the hiker not to be used for profit. Well, Steve suggested a small premium be charged to help pay for the next edition of the guide. And before the argument was over, Jean burst into tears and resigned on the spot as treasurer of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. It was a very uncomfortable situation, but I think that perhaps she’d already been sort of resigned to just stepping back anyway. But I’ll never forget that incident.

KELLY: According to Gwen Loose, that moment was quintessentially Jean.

LOOSE: She avoided she seemed to avoid titles and avoid recognitions. I guess it was ATC that wanted to present her with honorary membership. And I think it took three tries. And they had to find a time because she refused the first two times. She said “No, I don’t want that honor.” And then finally, she was bestowed that honor at a meeting when she wasn’t present. So, you know, it wasn’t what she was after. You know, she was she was more in the battle for the battle’s sake, than for any recognition.

KELLY: Jean’s defense of the values that she and Myron had fought for, also showed how much she cared about preserving the trail that she and Myron and had built over two decades of partnership. Any attempt to undermine that legacy of shared values was simply unacceptable to her.

KELLY: The Appalachian Trail we know today still reflects those values. And that’s a testament to Jean Stephenson’s four decades of commitment to the trail to hikers and to preserving the lands the trail passes through.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: Perhaps the single biggest challenge to the Appalachian Trail came in the 1960s just as Jean was transitioning out of her leadership roles in the AT community. [Music ends] There was a big, well, baby boom after the Second World War. So, there were a lot more people in the United States. Many of those people had a lot more wealth. So, more and more people were buying vacation property in the mountains. At the same time, or in more companies like timber companies, ski resorts, and real estate developers, saw the mountains as a place of economic opportunity.

KELLY: This meant that the land the AT passed through was increasingly threatened by new development and new ideas about how the land should be used. Throughout the early 1960s, the various trail clubs and the ATC had been fighting to maintain the trail corridor from encroachment and more and more often, they were losing those fights. [Violin music begins] The solution was federalization. The ATC in his member clubs wanted to convert the Appalachian Trail from a private endeavor run by volunteers into a national park.

KELLY: Over the course of several years, leaders of the trail organizations worked tirelessly to get Congress to pass the National Scenic Trails Act. This Act would put the AT and the Pacific Crest Trail under control of the federal government and it would give them permanent protection from future encroachment.

[Music ends]

KELLY: Because they were located in Washington DC, the leaders of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the ATC took on most of the effort. They lobbied Congress testified at hearings, and generally did everything they could to get the Trails Act passed. One of the most important people leading that charge was PATC President Ruth Blackburn.

KELLY: Ruth came to the Appalachian Trail project in the 1940s as a volunteer with the PATC. Her husband Fred had been active with the club since the 1920s. He had been one of the more important trail scouts in the early days of the trail. As their children got older, Ruth spent more and more time out on the trail with Fred and others working as a trail and a cabin maintainer.

KELLY: Like Jean Stephenson, Ruth Blackburn fought hard to preserve the trail and the lands around it. But they approached this challenge in different ways. Jean was constantly fending off encroachments to the trail as they happened. Ruth decided to pursue a more comprehensive strategy that leverage the power of the federal government to protect the trail.

LOOSE: Ruth was really responding to the fact that the trail was being challenged physically. You had mountaintop development, you had mountaintop highways, you had so many sections of the trail that were built on verbal agreements and handshakes. And all of that was being threatened, you know, particularly in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. And she saw the legal side of that. And if you didn’t solidify your right to be, that private landowners and private developers were going to take it away, and there would be no trail. Where Jean was a force to be reckoned with. Ruth was a quiet investigator. She saw the threat. And she was quietly going to collect the information that she needed to find out where the federal government and where the States needed to acquire easements. And she was very convincing in that role.

KELLY: Both women were quiet leaders. They preferred to convince rather than lecture, but they were also willing to take very firm positions. And, like Jean, Ruth Blackburn was always more prepared than anyone in the room. Anytime she was in a meeting about land acquisition or the protection of the trail, Ruth had already looked at every pertinent document from every courthouse, real estate closing, or tax record. She had probably already spoken to the landowners whose property might be impacted by the trail.

LOOSE: She saw what had to be done on the ground to keep the trail whole. And that was critical. I think without Ruth doing all that homework, it would have been very difficult to have a continuous trail from Georgia to Maine.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: Congress did pass the National Scenic Trails Act in 1968. That was a no small part due to the efforts of Ruth Blackburn. Shortly after the passage of the Trails Act, Ruth was elected to the ATC’s Board of Managers. From that position, she was able to continue her work on the protection of the trail.

[Music ends]

KELLY: The biggest part of that effort was the campaign to acquire the corridor the trail passes through today. In 1968, less than half of the Appalachian Trail was on federal land. The ATC and trail club leaders like Ruth had to help the Park Service with the decade’s long and sometimes contentious effort to acquire the privately owned lands that the trail crossed.

KELLY: Another of Ruth’s achievements during her years on the Board of Managers was bringing Benton MacKaye back into the trail community. MacKaye had been estranged from the ATC ever since the 1930s, when he and Myron Avery had a falling out over Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. Ruth decided it was time to put an end to that estrangement.

LOOSE: I think it was, it was part of really Ruth’s way of operating, that she recognized the value of his early work. And she was going to find a way of welcoming him back. And so they started up a letter writing, you know, back and forth. And it was it was born out of mutual respect for each other. And I think that strategy that she had, which came natural to her, really resonated with Benton MacKaye. And it took some of the harshness out of the words that Myron Avery had put on paper, you know, years before. And that’s all he needed was to just know that there was a warm welcome waiting for him. And he walks through the door. He said, I’ll come back.

KELLY: Although he was a very old man by that point, the symbolism of MacKaye’s return to the AT project helped reconnect the trail to its founder. His idealism, about the value of time in nature started to feel a lot more familiar at the very moment that hiking and backpacking were really taking off in the United States.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: One of the many things people appreciated about Ruth was her steady leadership style. In 1980, that style was one of the most important reasons she was elected as the new chair of the ATC. She was the first woman to hold that position.

[Music ends]

LOOSE: She was warm, she really was she was a people person. And so if there was something that she had to deal with that was somehow controversial, she could remove the controversy.

KELLY: In addition to her continued focus on land acquisition and corridor protection, Ruth worked tirelessly to help the ATC transition from a small core of dedicated volunteers and staff to the professional organization it is today.

LOOSE: Yeah, she spent a considerable amount of time solidifying the roles of different staff people at ATC as far as like, who is doing what and how can we do this most efficiently. And then the various committees that they had working on making sure that they were on task, and also, you know, in some ways professionalizing the board and keeping them on task.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY: People who worked with Ruth Blackburn always remember three things: the fact that she was always the most prepared person in the room, her warm personality, and her baking.

LOOSE: She was she was well known for bringing cookies and brownies to Harpers Ferry for the staff. You know, homemade peach ice cream on her porch if you were lucky enough to get invited. It’s just, it’s just the way she operated. But on top of all of that, she did her homework. When she walked into the boardroom, she was prepared. She probably knew more about the issues than anybody else in the room. And that’s what is important.

[Music ends]

KELLY: Sandi Marra, the current president and CEO of the ATC also remembers her baking skills.

SANDI MARRA: What you’re doing is you’re walking into a group of people and you’re creating an environment in which they can thrive in which they feel comfortable. You’re setting a table literally, to bring people in and bring them along in the work that you’re trying to accomplish. And if that can be, you know, if part of smoothing that path forward can be with a tin of fresh baked cookies. There’s nothing wrong with that. And quite frankly, I think it’s rather genius. My very first meeting I sort of invoked Ruth’s name and actually brought along a container of cookies that I had made.

KELLY: Ruth’s most lasting contribution to the trail project came near the end of her term as ATC Chairwoman. She successfully negotiated the agreement between the National Park Service and the trail conference that turned over management of the Appalachian Trail to the ATC, an agreement that remains unique throughout the National Park system. In 1983, Ruth received the Conservation Service Award from US Secretary of the Interior James Watt. He described Ruth as the single most important volunteer in shaping the Park Service’s trail protection program. Coming from Watt, a man who was notoriously opposed to any expansion of the national park system, that was quite an honor.

Ruth Blackburn receiving the 1983 Conservation Service Award from US Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, (1983). Source: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

[Violin music begins]

MARRA: One of the things that Ruth always did, and she would sort of stop as things became heated in PATC meetings is she would say, “Yes, but what is the best decision for the trail?” And that really always drove home for me that at the end of the day, we are all working for what is ultimately the best decision for the trail.

KELLY: From 1983 to the beginning of the 21st century, protecting the trail seemed like enough. But by the dawn of a new century, the Appalachian Trail had entered a new era. In the 1980s, the trail was being used by tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of hikers. By 2000, the number of hikers had grown into the millions.

KELLY: Finding ways to make the trail accessible to so many new hikers while protecting it as a natural resource is the challenge faced by Sandi Marra, who we heard from a few minutes ago. I’ve talked to her on two different occasions in two different locations.

[Music ends]

MARRA: I have been volunteering for the trail since oh my gosh, I’d say since 1984. I was 25 years old. I think initially, what really started this for me was it became an immediate social group, this idea of this national trail that was completely managed and maintained by volunteers was just fascinating to me, and as a twenty-something year-old woman to be seriously taken with, you know, be allowed to hold a hammer or a crosscut saw, lift a beam for a shelter, that was really invigorating too, right? I mean, it was not something that I necessarily grew up with was that that kind of equal acceptance in doing that kind of work.

KELLY: Like Ruth Blackburn, before long, Sandi started taking on a leadership role at the PATC.

MARRA: Pretty quickly too, I think senior people in the club sort of recognized that I also probably didn’t know how to say no good enough. And I was pretty quickly recruited into more leadership positions. So, actually a couple years in I became General Secretary of PATC. And then I just went from there.

Sandi Marra, Appalachian Trail Conservancy President, (2021).

KELLY: One of her early mentors was none other than Ruth Blackburn.

MARRA: And I had the honor of working with people like Ruth Blackburn, so I really count myself really lucky of being coming a member when I did.

KELLY: On a different day, Sandi and I talked more about Ruth role in her life.

MARRA: One of my first volunteer jobs, was managing the Blackburn Trail Center, which was named in honor of Fred and Ruth in the work that they did in getting the National Trails Act passed, Ruth, along with several of the other kind of old guard women in PATC were very cognizant of the need to mentor and encourage younger women like me stepping in, right. I mean, I think that a lot of times, that piece of bringing that next generation along and how much effort actually needs to go into that gets lost. In these early days, there were a lot of people that were encouraging and providing positive reinforcement. I certainly tried to do that now.

KELLY: Like Jean and Ruth, Sandi’s focus has been and remains on the preservation of the trail, its surrounding landscapes, and on the future of the trail as a national recreational resource.

MARRA: So, as much as I have like my feet well in the past and understand, you know, I was thinking about this the other day, ATC is going to be 100 years old in 2025. I’m 62 years old, and I’ve been doing this for probably now close to you know, it’d be close to 40 years. I mean, I’m almost half my life has been, you know, I forget how young ATC was even in a way when I joined compared to where I am now. I mean, that’s huge. But as much as I have all that perspective, I still really see the value of the future.

KELLY: I asked Sandi about her vision for the future of the Appalachian Trail.

MARRA: Everyone says, “Oh, the trail is done.” But if you go back to MacKaye’s vision, it’s not done yet. And the next 100 years has to be a much fuller realization of MacKaye’s overall vision of what this is supposed to be about. Now, I will say MacKaye’s idea of a people’s trail wasn’t all people. I think we need to acknowledge that, where ATC, where I think the future stewards of the Appalachian Trail need to go is that we need to realize that idea of the people’s trail truly for all.

KELLY: in addition to making sure the AT is a place that welcomes all hikers, Sandi, like Jean, and Ruth before her, spends a lot of time thinking about protecting the trail.

MARRA: This public land management is a huge responsibility, but it’s an incredible opportunity to not just give people opportunity to recreate and, and make communities to, you know, recognize economic growth from having a place like this their backyard. But it also is a great place for people to learn about stewardship. And I think the trails again, because we have this skilled volunteer corps that maintained advantage, again, very different from our other national public lands, we have great opportunity for people to have that learning experience.

KELLY: Toward the end of my first interview with Sandi, I asked her about the experiences of the huge numbers of hikers coming to the trail for the first time,

MARRA: You know, there’s a huge focus on the thru hiker experience. And it definitely is an experience that I think has brought the AT to the forefront of people’s minds. I think it’s what gets all the press. But they’re such a, a really, you know, percent of a percent of the people that set foot on the Appalachian Trail here. What I’m really happy to say though, and again, I’ve lived long enough doing this to see it. For what I started to what I see today is phenomenal. Women are, they’re everywhere, we always have been. But more than ever, I think that this idea that it’s a boy sport or girl sport has just really disappeared.

[Fiddle music]

KELLY: Somehow. I think Jean Stephenson, Ruth Blackburn, and the many other women who have played important leadership roles in the trail’s history, would all be very happy to see how involved women are in the trail. As hikers, trail maintainers, shelter maintainers leaders of clubs, ridge runners, and everything else you can possibly imagine. Although women have been critical to the trail for 100 years, their contributions are too often unrecognized.

LOOSE: We were chattering about Myron Avery and Benton MacKaye and other men that we had heard about. And at that point, we were both to sharing a little bit of the history that we had, because neither of us were experts on Appalachian Trail history. But the conversation sort of rolled around to, “Do you know anything of the women who worked side by side with Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery?” And neither of us knew anything, we couldn’t even name a single woman! And there we were two women hiking on the trail. And we thought there has to be women who were involved early on, we were not the first, you know, to be interested in the Appalachian Trail.

[Guitar music begins]

KELLY: These days, it’s hard to deny the central role women have played in the history of the AT. In fact, today’s trail is a trail that exists as it is because of women, women who are leaders of the trail organizations, but also the thousands of women who have volunteered with various trail clubs for 100 years.

STEPHENSON, “Hiking in Maine” (1952): Those who built the Appalachian Trail are from all walks of life, all classes of society. Varied occupations, both sexes, and all ages, united by a common interest in the out of doors. The trail they built and are maintaining is for everyone.

[Mountain music begins]

KELLY:  The Green Tunnel is a production of R2 Studios at George Mason University. Today’s episode was produced by Bridget Bukovich. Abby Mullen is our executive producer, and she also did the audio production for this episode. That’s also Abby that you hear reading from Jean Stephenson’s writing.

KELLY Our music is performed by the award-winning musicians Andrew Small and Ashley Watkins of Floyd, Virginia. Andrew and Ash are also the hosts of the Floyd Radio Hour. If you haven’t listened to their show, you’re missing out.

KELLY: Before we go, we want to thank everyone who has been posting about our show on their social media. That really helps us grow our audience, and we appreciate it.

KELLY: If you haven’t already, please be sure to follow our show on your favorite podcast platform. And if you have a chance, write us a review there.

KELLY: If you go to our website: greentunnel.rrchnm.org, you can sign up for our newsletter, which contains interesting tidbits from our stories that didn’t quite make it into the final version of our episodes. To sign up, use the “Become a Member” link at the top of the page. When you become a member, we’ll send you two awesome stickers, one with the logo of our show, and one with a fun quotation from legendary hiker Grandma Gatewood.

KELLY: Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you soon.

[Music ends]

Special Thanks

We want to give special thanks to our voice actor, Abby Mullen, who read from our original sources as Jean Stephenson.

Further Reading

Gwen Loose, We Were There, Too: Pioneering Appalachian Trail Women (2020)

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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