Over the past seventy-five years, thousands have trod the 2100-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Most hikers hike the trail as a wilderness experience, but few may realize the degree to which the trail represents a constructed landscape, as well as a significant cultural resource illustrating pioneering efforts in regional planning and recreation. The trail through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, one of the oldest sections, was initially completed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club between 1928 and 1931, and was substantially rebuilt during the 1930s with Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) labor according to a rustic style that harmonized built features with the native environment. The trail through Shenandoah was designed to capture scenic views of the Virginia Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley, and to pass by remarkable natural features such as stone outcroppings and mountain peaks. Extensive runs of dry-laid stone
retaining walls, stone trail edging, rustic log and stone shelters, and distinctive trail markers were added to the trail in its initial development prior to World War II.
Circa 1935—Appalachian Trail to Mary’s Rock with unidentified man, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Source: Shenandoah National Park Archives.
Recognizing the potential significance of these features for the character of the trail, park cultural resource managers made plans to complete a Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI), working through the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, a program of the Northeast Region of the National Park Service. A CLI is the Park Service’s baseline inventory of cultural landscapes that evaluates historical significance based on the criteria established by the National Register of Historic Places. Prior to this effort, the focus of management has been on the trail’s natural resources, but the CLI represents a first step toward managing for the trail’s historic cultural resources.
Park managers realized that completing a CLI on over one hundred miles of trail through Shenandoah
July 2006—Appalachian Trail to Mary’s Rock, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Source: SUNY ESF/NPS OCLP
posed a monumental effort, requiring a new inventory methodology as well as staff that the park did not have. To make the CLI happen, the Olmsted Center entered into a cooperative agreement with the Faculty of Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse. For six weeks during the summer of 2006, six landscape architecture students from SUNY ESF completed the time-consuming fieldwork for the CLI, using GIS and manual inventory methods. The students inventoried over 1,800 landscape features, including nearly three miles of stone retaining walls, numerous views, hundreds of trail markers, and
SUNY ESF landscape architecture students Jeanie Gleisner and Daniel Stazzone inventorying cultural features on the Appalachian Trail,Summer 2006. Source: SUNY ESF/NPS OCLP
remnant orchards and forest plantations. The team discovered that although the trail may have shifted a bit in a few places, it remains largely intact from its historic pre-war development. Stone edging still defines the trail for miles, and the CCC’s massive stone retaining walls are mostly in excellent shape. Students researched archival material and were able to match a number of historic photos with their current locations, such as a mid-1930s photo of the trail at Mary’s Rock peak and its match from July 2006, shown here.
Since completion of the field work, graduate student Karen Cowperthwaite has worked on completing the CLI under the direction of George W. Curry, Distinguished Teaching Professor, including a narrative history of the trail landscape, evaluation of historic integrity, and mapping. A final draft of the CLI is anticipated for completion this summer, and will be used as a model for completing cultural inventories on other sections of the Appalachian Trail.
John Auwaerter of the State University of New York ESF faculty of Landscape Architecture can be reached at email@example.com