If tourism officials in Alabama had their way, the southern end of the Appalachian Trail would be in their state. Their hopes are bound up in a natural path that connects the famous trail where it now officially ends in Georgia to the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama.
The conservationist Benton MacKaye in 1921 envisioned the Appalachian Trail as a refuge from the urban environs of the East Coast. Now, the Alabama Pinhoti trail meanders 115 miles to the Georgia border — ultimately to Springer Mountain, the original southern endpoint of the AT in Georgia.
Tom Cosby of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce says the original northern endpoint was in New Hampshire, but it was officially extended. The same, he says, could happen in Alabama.
Cosby says state officials haven't officially asked for the trail to be extended into Alabama, but they hope it will become sort of a de facto end and eventually be recognized.
Georgia officials at a state park near Springer Mountain say they have no position on the Alabama plan — which could siphon hikers and tourist dollars away. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has not taken an official stand, either, but Executive Director David Startzell says such a move would require an act of Congress.
"It would have to be an amendment to the National Trails System Act, which provides a fairly general description of the route of the trail, but it's detailed enough that clearly an extension into Alabama wouldn't fit the current definition," Startzell says.
The National Trails System Act of 1968 places the endpoints at Mount Katahdin, Maine, and Springer Mountain, so the wording would have to be changed. Regardless, the Alabama Pinhoti is there for the hiking. No matter what it's called, it is an uninterrupted path all the way to Maine.
Steve Chiotakis reports from member station WBHM in Birmingham.