Blaz­ing a moun­tain trail

The Covington News - - School Beat -

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.”

Clifford Brew­ton


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