L.M. Browning Interviews Don Hudson of the International Appalachian Trail
Each year Hiraeth Press donates 1% of its annual profits to an eco-charity. Our 2011 we lent our support to the Sierra Club. This year, in honor of Border Crossings: Walking the Haiku Path on the International Appalachian Trail by Ian Marshall, we have chosen the International Appalachian Trail as the 2012 recipient.
Most of you are familiar with the Appalachian Trail or the “AT” as it is known, which runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia north through fourteen states to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine; roughly 2,180 miles in all. The lesser-known sister trail to the AT is the International Appalachian Trail/ Sentier International des Appalaches or (IAT/SIA). The IAT picks up at Mount Katahdin and extends northward winding its way to Crow Head in Newfoundland; adding an additional 1800 miles of hiking trails as it follows the remainder of the Appalachian Mountains in North American.
Many believe that the Appalachian Mountains end in Maine where the AT ends, when in fact the range stretches through North America and across the Atlantic Ocean. As the IAT community explains: “The Appalachian Mountains were formed more than 250 Million years ago during the Paleozoic Era, when the Earth’s plates collided to form the supercontinent Pangea. They straddled the central part of that continent in what is today eastern North America, eastern Greenland, Western Europe, and northwest Africa. When today’s continents separated to form the Atlantic Ocean, remnants of the Appalachians ended up in the eastern United States, eastern Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, the British Isles, Brittany, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria.”
On Earth Day 1994 Governor Joe Brennan announced his intention to establish what is now the IAT. It began as an idea to create a trail that would link the highest peaks in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec. The project has since grown beyond what those initially involved could have ever hoped for. Since 1995 the trail has been extended north twice. Originally the end of the trail was at Mont Jacques Cartier in Quebec but a new trail was made pushing east, bringing the end to the Gaspé Peninsula at Cap Gaspé. Then, in 2002, the trail was expanded again upon a request from a Newfoundland delegation, up through the Appalachians of Newfoundland to Belle Isle. At present, the trail is nearly 1800 miles long.
Over the last weeks, in the course of promoting for Border Crossings, I was given the opportunity to work with members of the IAT Board of Directors. Seeking an authority on the trail, I was directed to Donald Hudson—President of the Maine Chapter and a founding member of the IAT. Together with Richard Anderson—a past President of the IAT, Mr. Hudson has in a quite literal sense, been working to blaze the trail.
Listing Donald’s achievements is no small thing. He first developed an interest in plants and ecology in the early 1970s while leading expeditions for the Chewonki Foundation in Maine and Quebec. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1972 with a degree in French and Environmental Studies. He earned a Master’s degree from the University of Vermont and a Ph.D. from Indiana University. Don became the Head Naturalist at Chewonki in 1982, was appointed President in 1991, retiring in July 2010.
Don is a founding member of the International Appalachian Trail, the Friends of Baxter State Park and the Maine Green Campus Consortium. He is currently Chair of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Advisory Council. He received the Green Heart award from the Quimby Family Foundation in 2009. Then in 2010 he was bestowed an Environmental Merit Lifetime Achievement award from the US EPA, the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Maine at Machias, the Espy Conservation Award from the Maine Land Trust Network and an Outdoor Hero Award from LL Bean.
Former Maine Commissioner of the Department of Conservation, Dick Anderson conceived the idea in October 1993 and asked Chloe Chunn, Dick Davies and me to help. Dick and I had traveled to the Chic Choc Mountains on the Gaspé in 1988 and had talked there about the common origin of the landscape and ecological communities. I suspect that trip might have helped the idea of the trail to gel in Dick’s mind. A few months later, on Earth Day, April 22, 1994, Governor Joe Brennan announced the plan.
Hudson: I met Dick in 1988 when he invited me to accompany a group of wildlife biologist on that trip to the Chic Choc Mountains on the Gaspé. Dick was managing a caribou reintroduction project in Maine, and the group was interested to visit a place where caribou are still a part of the wildlife community. Dick thought that my experience with Arctic/alpine plant communities – the source of much of the food that the Chic Choc caribou eat – might be a help to the group. We stayed in touch through the years until Dick described the idea of the IAT to me one Saturday morning in October 1993 at the Main Street Deli in Bath, Maine. We’ve been working very closely together ever since.
Hudson: A long distance trail is always a work-in-progress, and the biggest hurdle to its establishment is to secure the support and cooperation of the many landowners over whose land the trail must pass. Next, especially in the case of this international project, is to help establish well functioning groups to help put the trail on the ground and to maintain it through time. Lastly, a long distance trail is nothing if people don’t walk on it! Public awareness, acceptance, and enthusiasm for the project make up the formula for its eventual success.
Hudson: Yes! When we wrote Joe’s short speech announcing the trail, we described it as an “extension” of the Appalachian Trail. Well, that was a mistake! The AT is a national treasure that has brass plaques marking the two ends. Recently retired Appalachian Trail Conservancy Executive Director David Startzell spoke with Dick a day after our announcement and suggested that we describe the project as a “connecting” trail to the AT. With that change, we overcame the lion’s share of objections. It’s fair to say that some influential state trail and park managers took more than a decade to warm up to the idea of the IAT. It’s very hard now to find someone who is not at least intrigued by the IAT.
Hudson: Dick Anderson and I traveled recently to West Virginia to help celebrate Dave Startzell’s retirement at a special party organized by the staff and board of the ATC. We met the new Executive Director Mark Wenger and made tentative plans to show him stretches of the IAT in Quebec this coming summer. Dave and his wife will also be joining us in Reykjavik, Iceland in June at the first annual meeting of the IAT that will include our European chapters. I’d say we have a very positive and productive relationship with the ATC.
Hudson: Not really! The Appalachian mountains in Canada support less forest and more tundra-like vegetation than their southern counterparts, so they look more rugged and challenging from a distance. However, when you put your feet on the ground, you are walking on very similar terrain made of the same sorts of rock that you can find throughout the entire range. It is true that there are stretches of very new trail in some parts, and so it will have a different feel than a trail that is decades older. Nevertheless, the walking is comparable.
Hudson: Yes! Over 100 people have walked the original IAT in Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine, and the entire length of the AT. Since we added Newfoundland to the trail in North America in 2003, a couple of dozen have walked from Katahdin in Maine to Crow Head in Newfoundland and along the entire length of the AT. There have also been a small handful of long distance hikers who have walked from Key West to Crow Head along a route that includes both the AT and the IAT, which they call the Eastern Continental Trail.
Hudson: I have been to the top of several of the highest peaks in the Chic Choc Mountains of the Gaspé and the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland. I’ve walked along the border between Maine and New Brunswick (no other trail in the world follows an international border!), through bogs and along dramatic shorelines. You can watch whales from the IAT at Cap Gaspé. However, some of the most memorable experiences have been the times that we worked on restoring a fire warden’s cabin at the top of Deasey Mountain or cleared out a derelict beaver dam that had caused flooding of the trail.
L.M.: What are a few of the prominent species of wildlife inhabiting the areas? What wildlife might a hiker encounter along the trail?
Hudson: It goes without saying that the whale watching opportunities from the tip of the Gaspé or the northern peninsula of Newfoundland might be the most extraordinary experiences along the trail. Where else can you see such things from a hiking trail? There are large numbers of moose and caribou to see throughout Newfoundland, and a small herd of caribou also occurs in the mountains of the Gaspé. In addition to moose in Maine, hikers may catch a glimpse of a black bear, though these animals are a bit more wary than moose. Birdwatchers will be treated to a wide variety of hawks and owls, as well as to the full suite of boreal forest species – from Boreal Chickadees and Three-toed Woodpeckers to colorful wood warblers like the Canada Warbler. Harlequin Ducks, Atlantic Puffins, Northern Gannets, Common Murres, and dozens of other coastal and pelagic birds can be seen along stretches of the trail on the Gaspé, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Finally, if you hike along stretches of the IAT that follow the Tobique, Upsalquitch or Restigouche Rivers in New Brunswick during the spring or fall, you are likely to see Atlantic Salmon – some leaping right out of the water as they make their way upstream through rapids and over small falls.
L.M.: If someone wanted to hike the IAT (or a portion of it) where should they start? Does the IAT community offer tips for organizing an extended hike?
Hudson: The IAT maintains a website with pages for each of the almost 20 chapters. Many of the chapters are very new and trail routes are just being identified. Interested hikers can find detailed maps and guides for the older chapters in North America. Contact information is prominently displayed on the website, and we are accustomed to responding to individual inquiries when necessary to help a long distance hiker figure out how to get on and off the trail.
L.M.: You recently told me that the IAT is following the remnants of the Appalachian range across the Atlantic with new extensions in Scotland, Europe, North Africa and the Scandinavian countries. It is estimated that the trail will one day be over 20,000. Back in 1994 could you ever imagine that the trail would be taken this far?
Hudson: We knew about the common geologic history of the mountains on either side of the Atlantic when we made our announcement in 1994, and we used that story to help explain the vision of connecting the three highest mountains in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec (we call it Phase 1 now). We used the same rationale in 2003 to push the trail on into Newfoundland through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (Phase 2). Yet, none of use imagined that we’d be celebrating the end of the trail at Crow Head, Newfoundland, let alone that this would be the end of the trail in North America, with thousands of miles yet to go in Europe… and, North Africa.
L.M.: Solitude is hard to achieve in this modern age but it can be found along the trails of the International Appalachian Trail. Passing through relatively undeveloped parts of Canada, the IAT is a rare sanctuary for both threatened wildlife and those individuals seeking to commune with the landscape. Do you receive governmental grant assistance to help you maintain the trail or do you rely solely on the support of the general public?
Hudson: The Canadian chapters of the IAT have all received some level of financial support to create the trail, including a couple of million dollars in Quebec to build over 200 miles of new trail and dozens of shelters and rustic mountain chalets along the entire 400 mile length of their trail. We received a small state grant in Maine to build a 2-mile stretch of new trail. However, our needs have been fewer as we have been able to take advantage of existing trails to knit together the length of the IAT in Maine.
L.M.: As I understand it the AT community is having problems staving off developers and maintaining the trails throughout the various states. What issues, if any, is the IAT currently trying to overcome?
Hudson: Thirty-five percent of the AT followed roads in 1937 when the trail was first declared “complete”. They have been working ever since to get the trail into the woods and off the roads. Likewise, we’ve got stretches of the IAT along roads in each of the 6 chapters of the IAT in North America, and we are working away at moving the trail into the woods wherever possible. I can think of a couple of small mountains northeast of Baxter State Park over which we would love to route the trail. However, we anticipate that it will take many more years to win the approval of landowners. We hang on to the goals and chip away over time! Most people recognize that these long distance trails are instruments of economic development for the rural communities through which they pass. That was Benton MacKaye’s vision when he first proposed the AT in 1921, and it’s the vision of those crafting the trail in places as far flung as Patton, Maine and Glen Coe, Scotland, or Tide Head, New Brunswick and Guadalupe, Spain. These long distance trails help rural communities celebrate their strong connection to nature, and we all yearn for those chances to touch the Earth.
L.M.: Is there any way that the public can help support the IAT in its conversation efforts?
Hudson: Yes! Absolutely! First and foremost, hikers make trails. A few people like Dick Anderson have the big vision of linking people and places of common geological and biological origin. The rest of us can make it happen by joining a chapter and picking up a small handsaw or a pair of clippers to help keep the path clear. However, the real trail builders are the hundreds and thousands of walkers who make the path well worn by taking the time to enjoy a walk of a few hours, days, or – who knows? – a few months. That’s just what Ian Marshall has done!
L.M.: What’s on the horizon for the IAT? What are the current goals of the community?
Hudson: We’ve got a lot of work to do in the coming months and years to help chapters stand up throughout the entire length of the growing trail. In some places like Scandinavia, there is a great deal of experience and energy for creating and managing a trail. Scotland has recently announced its route from the northeast to the southwest coasts, along the Cape Wrath Trail, the West Highland Way and the Firth o Clyde Rotary Trail. Each of our new chapters is hard at work to build a working trail management group, develop its route, and negotiate just where its trail will meet up with that of its neighbors at the border. The biggest goal, I believe, is to have a near continuous line on a map before the end of the decade throughout the full length of the trail. No doubt we have a lot of work! The idea is just now being explored in Morocco and Portugal, for example. However, everyone is making progress, and I look forward very much to seeing the maps and hearing the plans when we gather in Reykjavik, Iceland in June.
For more information on the IAT go to: www.iat-sia.com
Pick up Border Crossings: Walking the Haiku Path on the International Appalachian Trail by Ian Marshall on February 24th and read Ian’s personal accounts of hiking the IAT. To preview the introduction of Border Crossings click here>>
L.M. Browning grew up in a small fishing village in Connecticut where she began writing at the age of 15. A longtime student of Religion, Nature and Philosophy these themes permeate her work. Browning is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominated author. In 2010 she penned a three-title contemplative poetry series: Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith, Ruminations at Twilight: Poetry Exploring the Sacred and The Barren Plain: Poetry Exploring the Reality of the Modern Wasteland. In late 2011 she celebrated the release of her first full-length novel: The Nameless Man, which was co-authored by Marianne Browning.
Browning is a partner at Hiraeth Press—an Independent Publisher of Contemplative and Ecological titles. She is an Associate Editor of the bi-annual e-publication, Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics. She is Founder of Homebound—an imprint of Hiraeth Press devoted to fiction. Balancing her love of writing with her love of learning, she is currently working for a degree in Philosophy through The University of London and writing her next novel tentatively scheduled for release in early autumn 2013. Visit www.lmbrowning.com for more information.