Blazing a mountain trail
On October 4, 1976, Tom Gabel, an international balloon champion from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, floated in his hot air balloon through a white blanket of clouds and landed near the northeast Georgia town of Clayton
This landing culminated the very first lighter-than-air craft crossing of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The event was sponsored by the Rock City Gardens in Georgia and began at Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; it took nearly five harrowing hours and covered over a total of 72 miles.
From the height of 10,000 feet, Gabel made his descent near Dillard, Ga. A ground crew, which included Gabel’s wife, snaked its way through the mountains and valleys and, with the assistance of CB radio contact, found him shortly after the balloon touched down.
I’m speaking of the Appalachian Trail, which begins at Springer Mountain, traverses a total of 2,065 miles upward through the state of Maine past Mt. Katahdin, and is the longest continuous hiking pathway in the world
When first named, the Trail began at the 3,290-foothigh Mt. Oglethrope, but was moved to Springer Mountain because vandals had destroyed the original markers.
Hiking the Trail takes nearly five million steps and crosses 13 states; it goes over some of Georgia’s most beautiful mountains, which are older than the Rockies, the Alps and the Himalayas; it crosses the state’s highest, Mt. Enotah, now officially marked Brasstown Bald. The Cherokee Indian name for Enotah is “the place of the green valley.”
Mt. Enotah, hovering like a giant guard over a table of prized diamonds, the mountain stands on the divide between the Hiawassee and Nottely rivers, seven miles southeast of Young Harris and the Chatuga River.
On this lofty, unspoiled pathway, 76 miles of which is in Georgia, you can find over 800 plants and herbs the Indians knew, and at least 150 trees, a variety wider than that of all Eastern Europe, and nearly 1,500 species of flowering plants.
Georgia’s portion of the trail, which stretches into the Blue Ridge Province, contains the most majestic mountains of the Appalachian system.
Explorations and early studies of this region were done by two brothers, Joseph and Jon LeConte, natives of Liberty County, Ga.; they were college professors in the state after the Civil War, and later moved to California, where they established the University of California.
Joseph LeConte, professor of geology and natural history at the University of Georgia and the University of California, made extensive studies of the Appalachian Trail area. He conceived the theory that mountains are formed by lateral pressure as the earth shrinks. He made the study of this science popular in America.
Mt. LeConte, in North Carolina, along the trail near the Georgia line, was named for Joseph, as a tribute to his life and work.
Another peak on the world’s longest marked footpath was named for Sequoyah, a Georgia Cherokee Indian, who invented the Indian alphabet.
This intriguing trail began as a thought-flash which, lodged in the mind of Benton MacKaye, a forester, author, and philosopher, of Shirley Center, Mass. He published an article proposing such a trail in October 1921. He wanted Americans to have a place to walk.
MacKaye saw in his mind’s eye this Trail as a pathway to see and experience the world, and robust natural beauty of our country.
Victor Hugo, the Frenchman who achieved more fame as a writer while living than any other, said, “Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” MacKaye’s idea of a 2000 -mile trail from Georgia to Maine was such an idea.
Immediately after MacKaye’s article appeared, hiking clubs began clearing the pathway along the Trail, and by 1937, the stretch was completed and a long-range program was designed to protect the Trail from encroachments.
In 1968, the National Trails System Act was passed; it provided a basis for developing the Trail and a guarantee that the path would always remain open.
Continuing progress is now supervised by the Appalachian Trail Conference of Harpers Ferry, West Va.
When our family visited Mt. Enotah, we stood at the highest point of the Trail in Georgia. There we could hear the chatter of birds, the bobbling sounds of streams winding their way toward the valley, and enjoy the melody of music whistling in the winds and filtering through the trees, the bark of a fox and the shriek of a bobcat.
Nowhere had we ever seen such a captivating and excelling natural pageantry; it was a faultless enchantment which still lingers in my mind.
At the entrance of the Trail, there is a marker which invites you to leave civilization behind to enjoy this primitive and unspoiled pathway.
The marker welcomes you to come and rest for a while from life’s pressures and find strength for the battles of life by making contact with the wind and trees, earth and sky, “the firmament that showeth God’s handiwork.”