Hiking Around Midstate PA: A community blog

Explore hiking trails, environmental issues, recreational funding challenges and trail maintenance in Central Pennsylvania with Jim Foster.

The 2012 Class Of The Appalachian Trail Hall Of Fame

Written by Jim Foster, Community blogger | Jun 9, 2012 10:20 AM

It’s my honor to be the Chair of the selection committee for the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.  Last night we announced the 2012 Class, which includes five inductees.  Here is how we introduced the members of the 2012 Class at the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame Banquet, last night at Allenberry Resort.

I was very pleased with the six members of the Charter Class that the Hall of Fame Committee chose last year.  But, I did feel that something was missing in that class.  There were no women in it.  I am thrilled to tell you that not only have we fixed that with this year’s class of 2012, we have fixed it twice.

During the past year we have moved several steps closer to having a physical Hall of Fame at the Museum.  We are well on our way toward the expansion of the Museum that will make this possible.  I strongly urge those of you who can do so to make a generous contribution to the Museum, so we can complete this important work.

Once again this year we will give each honoree a custom made hiking stick.  These were again carved by John Beaudet, an AT thru-hiker from Tennessee that many of you know by his trail name “Bodacious”.  [show one]  Aren’t they great?  Unfortunately, Bodacious is unable to be with us tonight.  Please thank him when you see him.  He has carved a sixth stick for us which we will keep on permanent display in the Museum.

The story of our first honoree is surely one of the best stories of a Trail filled with wonderful stories.  This woman was born near Raccoon Creek, Ohio and spent most of her life on farms along the Ohio River.  One of fifteen siblings, she married and raised eleven children.  She was resourceful.  She could handle most medical emergencies, cook up a storm, and knew many plants and animals.  By 1954, when she was 66, she had lived a full and meaningful life.  Her children were grown. She had 24 great-grandchildren to spoil.  Most women would have been content to live out their days in comfort and relaxation.  Not this lady.  She had read in the National Geographic magazine about a trail stretching for 2,000 miles along the Appalachians from Georgia to Maine.  She had an idea.

That year, she started hiking the Trail; however she didn’t get too far.  But the next year, 1955, she started out again from Mt. Oglethorpe, where the A.T. began then.  That year she made it, hiking in her legendary Keds sneakers with a laundry sack over her shoulder and a shower curtain to sleep on.  She became the first woman to thru-hike the A.T. by herself and in a continuous hike.  In 1957, she did it again and later completed a third hike in sections.  Over the span of 18 years she hiked more than 14,000 miles.

Many call her the first thru-hiker celebrity.  She appeared on the Today show and numerous other programs.  She inspired two distinct movements in long distance hiking.  One group, of course, is comprised of the many thousands of women who have hiked the A.T. and other long distance trails.  The other was the ultra-lite movement.  She carried just a few items with her, each chosen carefully so they could perform multiple functions.  Including food, water and equipment, she rarely carried more than twenty pounds.

After a truly remarkable life, she passed away in 1973.  The next time you visit the Appalachian Trail Museum, be sure you look at the band-aid box in which she kept her tools, a pair of Keds she wore when hiking and the hiking guide given to her and autographed by A.T. Hall of Famer Ed Garvey.  As the display there says, she was truly a hiker for the ages.  Her name is,of course, Emma Rowena “Grandma” Gatewood.

Our next honoree was a man who neither sought nor easily accepted credit for his successes.  According to Dave Startzell, longtime executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, this man “had more to do with the reality of today’s Appalachian National Scenic Trail and its management than any other single person”.  He came to the Appalachian Trail at age 42 with degrees in political science and the law, as a former Marine Corps jet pilot, a former prep school teacher, former assistant superintendent of Mt. Rainier National Park, and former superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Six years after Congress adopted the National Trails System Act, which designated the Appalachian Trail as the first national scenic trail, this man successfully sought responsibility for the neglected A.T. when he accepted a new job as deputy director of the National Park Service’s northeast regional office in Boston.  Eventually, he obtained approval for a separate A.T. Project Office, to report directly to Washington.  He was largely responsible for developing the “cooperative management system” used to manage the A.T. today.  Under his plan, all constituencies would have a place at the ATPO–ATC table.  His only firm rule was to always act in good faith, without detailed marching orders, and never compromise fundamental values.  He found ways to fulfill the National Trails Systems Act’s unfunded mandates for a trail crossing countless federal, state and local jurisdictions with 70 percent of it on roads or private lands.  He saw the potential of the volunteer corps of the ATC, and he knew how to work the bureaucracy without ever appearing to be bureaucratic himself.

ATPO moved to Harpers Ferry just as Congress passed amendments to the Trails Act to crank up the A.T. project. Our honoree argued for another central office, this one focused on A.T. land acquisition. The agency’s most experienced lands specialist, Charles Rinaldi, became its chief, and its offices were also located in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

The notion that the A.T. was something different within the park system was not finished.  In 1984, the department would take the unprecedented step of delegating to a private nonprofit organization the day to-day management of more than 100,000 acres of the federal estate. Throughout the process that led to that, our honoree stood with ATC’s leaders in reassuring Congress, standing up to opponents, charting the revitalization course ATC itself needed to take, and then securing agency reimbursements for ATC that today make up a quarter of its budget.

A year before he retired, he completed his section-hike of the A.T., accompanied on the last segment by his daughter, a future thru-hiker.  At his retirement, he was awarded honorary membership in ATC, the organization’s highest recognition. After retirement, he served for a time as interim administrator of the ATC land trust, the formation of which he had encouraged in 1981.  As Dave Startzell noted after our honoree’s death in 2002, “He was a visionary, a tireless ambassador of the Trail project, and a prophet of partnerships long before the concept of partnerships became politically fashionable.”  His name is David A. Richie.

Our next honoree helped to blaze several hundred miles of the A.T. through what is now Shenandoah National Park as well as what is now the 100-mile Wilderness in Maine. He spent most of his adult life volunteering in one capacity or another on behalf of the Appalachian Trail, attending meetings and serving as treasurer and later supervisor of trails for Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, as well as secretary of the Maine AT Club and as a member of the ATC Board of Managers. But his favorite trail-related activity was building, blazing and maintaining the actual footpath.

He was born in Rochester, NY, on April 13, 1904.  By profession, he was a Yale-trained chemist who was fascinated with the composition of rocks and minerals.  He was considered a genius in the field of chemistry and mineralogy and was awarded numerous accolades during his life, including the Roebling Medal. In 1948 he was awarded the President's Certificate of Merit, a precursor to the Medal of Freedom, for his work on a project toward the end of World War II -- no, not the atomic bomb, but the development of a stellite-lined barrel for a new .50-caliber machine gun that could fire 30 times as many rounds as would ruin ordinary steel barrels. The new barrels became the standard of the War Department and were put into use for the rest of the Pacific campaign in 1945.

But it's for his trail work and good-hearted nature that we remember him today.  In 1927, he joined with friends holding similar views and formed the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. They started blazing trail near Harpers Ferry and worked south through Virginia. Under his supervision the club constructed and blazed about 260 miles of the A.T. from 1928 to 1932. Their work contributed to the formation of Shenandoah National Park, which had been authorized in 1926 and was established on December 26, 1935.

He undertook a similar trailblazing expedition in 1933 with several fellow PATC members in Maine -- THE expedition of all expeditions, since that trip was the one that laid out the route of the trail through what is now the 100-mile Wilderness, considered by many the best stretch of the whole trail. Those who've traversed the Wilderness can only imagine what it must have been like without a trail already in place, but that was the job our honoree, along with Hall of Famer Myron Avery, Walter Greene and Albert Jackman, among others, undertook for themselves. In all those iconic photos of Avery in Maine with his measuring wheel -- on the summit of Katahdin marking for the first time the northern terminus of the A.T., in the middle of Rainbow Lake in a powerboat, fording the West Branch of the Pleasant River on a makeshift raft -- that's him with the ever-present pipe in his mouth and usually a can of white paint and a paint brush (if not a fishing pole) in his hand. In fact, the very first white blazes for the A.T. ever painted on Katahdin and through much of the rest of the Wilderness were done by his hand during that summer of 1933.

Photos of him on the Appalachian Trail show a man equally at home with academics and Appalachian mountain people alike, having the time of his life. By all accounts, he truly did.  He died while swimming in Chesapeake Bay on Sept. 26, 1970, at age 66. His name is J. Frank Schairer.

Our next honoree was famous for setting standards.  Although the formats have changed, the standards she set for ATC guidebooks, when she took over from Myron Avery the effective role of their editor-in-chief in 1933, have endured. The standards she set for the Appalachian Trailway News when she became its founding editor in 1939, endured throughout its sixty-six years, even though she relinquished her editorial role after the first twenty-five. Her standards as a writer and an editor extended to all publications of the organization, but her influence far exceeded those public channels.  Her knowledge of the Trail was encyclopedic and her perspectives on its development and nature from the early 1940s seem as fresh today as when they were written.

She came to the A.T. project in 1933, fifteen years after arriving in Washington via Cornell University from her native Waco, Texas, earning a doctorate in law from National University School of Law.  She held a full time job at the Department of the Navy during most of the time she was active with the A.T.  The Trail had been essentially completed in the South by then, but Maine was lagging behind the other states.  She joined the founders of the Maine A.T. Club and enlisted in Myron Avery’s intense 1935 expedition to mostly finish the route there. She remained active in the Maine club almost to her end, serving for a period as its treasurer.  After the passage of the 1968 National Trails System Act, she aggressively lobbying timber companies and other major landowners in Maine to contribute to a new corridor for the footpath.

It is clear from Myron Avery’s papers that our honoree was in many ways a shadow chairman during most of the quarter-century he was effectively at the helm of PATC, the Maine AT Club as well as ATC itself.  In Avery’s final year, for example, as his health declined, she took over the detailed preparations for the conference that would elect Avery’s successor.  For most of the next decade after Avery, it is clear she, without title, was holding the headquarters of ATC together and assuming his role as liaison to federal agencies and counselor to the board.

Our honoree was awarded PATC’s first honorary life membership in 1950.  Beyond her trail activities, she was active in the national genealogical organizations.  She published books and articles in that field that are still cited today by professionals and amateurs alike.  She became the first president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists when that field of history was first recognized as a profession.  That, after all, was what she did—set standards and keep the faith alive.  She passed away in 1979.  Her name is Jean Stephenson.

Our last honoree for 2012 was the first general manager of the New York–New Jersey Palisades Interstate Park Commission, a position he held for twenty-six years. It was a paid position directly related to his role as the first volunteer chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference.  However, neither “first” captures the pivotal, pioneering role he played in the history of public recreation in America.

A descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams born in Cynthiana, Kentucky, he earned his engineering degrees from Colorado College and the University of Virginia. He spent his early career working for the federal government in the Alaskan territory, designing railroads in Central and South America, and then, after a bout with yellow fever, working privately for renowned landscape architects John and Frederick Law Olmsted.

After five years at the new Palisades Interstate Park Commission, beginning in 1912, he took a leave for what turned out to be the last two years of World War I.  He was given the rank of major and served in the Signal Corps in the Pacific Northwest as manager of production of lumber for airplanes. It is for this service that he is almost always referred to as “Major” in trail lore and the records of ATC.  By the time he returned to New York, already a million people a year were going to his fire-scarred and overhunted Palisades Park.

Without precedents to guide him, Welch embarked on aggressive infrastructure investments to combine public recreation with conservation, stressing reforestation, lakes and lodging and food-service facilities, wildlife restoration, campgrounds targeting urban youth, and the roads and bridges and other utilities needed to deliver the visitors. Although he spent a lifetime refusing news interviews and lived quietly in a hidden cabin near Bear Mountain, his work soon attracted the attention of state parks directors, also new to their roles. Much of that attention came as a result of his speech in 1917 to the first “national parks conference” organized by founding National Park Service Director Stephen Mather. Soon, he would be touring the new national parks—then all in the West—to provide advice.  Later he would accept Mather’s invitation to help select eastern sites, ultimately choosing the Great Smokies and Shenandoah.

It was in 1922—the same year he hosted the second national conference on state parks that included many A.T. proponents—that Welch’s connection to the Appalachian Trail, just proposed the previous October by Benton MacKaye, would begin. Two years earlier, he had been invited to meet with a walkers club to discuss ways to involve the park’s trail system. By 1922, that club had been renamed the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference and began routing the first footpath section of the A.T., from the Hudson to the Ramapo River. For that section, Welch designed—and had his park crews make for six cents each—a square, die-cut copper marker with the A.T. monogram that evolved over the next decade to the diamond marker that endures as the Trail’s most recognized symbol.  Parks groups in which Welch was active were among the sponsors of the first “Appalachian Trail Conference” in 1925 that gave birth to the organization of that name and selected him as chairman. Although he would cede that position two years later to G. Arthur Perkins, he continued for a dozen years as honorary chairman or honorary president and was repeatedly called upon to preside over the conference’s periodic meetings, especially when controversy was expected.

Fiften months into retirement, he died in May 1941, just before the last meeting of the Appalachian Trail Conference before World War II convened, at his Bear Mountain Inn. A memorial tribute said of the quiet Kentuckian: “He wrought a miracle of transformation. By his magic touch, forests grew in waste spaces, lovely sheets of water appeared in valleys long since gone dry, roads and trails threaded the woodlands, the deer, the beaver and the elk returned to their ancient haunts in the Highlands, and camps on the banks of lakes echoing the laughter of innumerable children. He loved Nature and used her treasures to make humanity happier.”  His name is Major William Adams Welch.

These are the five inductees for 2012 into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.  If you’d like to read about the six members of 2011’s Charter Class, follow THIS LINK.

Published in Hiking Around Midstate PA and Beyond: A community blog

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