Many people who have hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, including a few Chautauqua County residents, have said the experience changed their lives.
Stretching nearly 2,200 miles from Maine to Georgia, the AT is quite a challenge, both physically and mentally.
Starting from the north, the trail begins at an elevation of 5,267 feet in Baxter State Park in central Maine. Running southward for 281 rugged miles in Maine, the trails enters New Hampshire and crosses over Mount Success and continues on through the White Mountains. Some 161 miles later, the trail enters Vermont and runs for 146 miles through the Green Mountains.
In Massachusetts hikers encounter 90 miles of trail through the Berkshires. Then it is on to Connecticut and over Bear Mountain and the Taconic Range. The trail runs for 88 miles in New York, across the Hudson River, traversing Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park and then passing through Sterling Forest.
And so it goes ever southward, through national forests, Shenandoah National Park, the Great Smokies, and, finally, reaching the rugged Chattahoochee National Forest and then Springer Mountain, its southern terminus in Georgia.
This week the trail is 75 years old.
Opened Aug. 14, 1937, the Appalachian Trail was seen as a way for people to get out in the woods and benefit from being close to the natural world.
Whether spending just a few hours on the trail or making it the dominant fact of life for months at a time, many AT hikers find the footpath a welcome respite from life in concrete jungles. They go back and often spread the word about what lies just yards from many highways throughout the eastern United States.
And so there is no doubt the trail has changed countless lives in ways small and large.
Happy birthday, AT!