Virginia's Lost AT



From 1930-1952, the Appalachian Trail (AT) followed a very different route between Roanoke, Virginia, and Damascus on the Tennessee border. Instead of passing to the west of Blacksburg and crossing the New River at Pearisburg, from Roanoke, the trail turned due south into Floyd County, and from there passed down into Patrick Country, crossing briefly into North Carolina at Fisher's Peak, then hooked back northwest through downtown Galax, Virginia, before crossing the New River at Dixon's Ferry. On the west bank of the river, the trail then turned north until it reached Byllesby Dam, at which point it climbed up onto the Iron Mountain ridge, which it followed all the way to Damascus. In 1952, the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) pulled the trail more than 50 miles west to its current location, abandoning the original route in Southwestern Virginia, a route that encompassed 300 miles, or 15 percent of the entire trail at the time.

The AT was always intended to be a place for hikers to spend a few hours, a day, a few days, a week, a few weeks, or more out in the forest, away from the stresses and sounds of the city.  The AT provides an escape, an outlet, and a sanctuary for those wishing to find a connection to the natural world.  Whether a pioneering thru-hiker in 1951 or a day hiker in 2020, the people who walk along the footpath seek a sense of freedom and release.  Year after year, the trail provides that for them.

For those earliest thru-hikers, the trail experience differed greatly from today.  The men and women, who hiked along Virginia’s Lost AT as thru-hikers encountered curiosity and scrutiny as well as kindness and generosity.  

This module challenges students to look at the hardships and triumphs found by those hiking Virginia’s Lost AT.  Students will base their understanding of the past on a current clip of life on the AT. With a shared perspective, students will then analyze trail related documents and create their own understanding of what trail life may have looked like in the 1940s and early 1950s.  This enrichment lesson can incorporate a brief lecture on the growth of the AT over the decades and an analysis of the change in routes. The module culminates with the creation of seven social media posts about the trail in its early years using the collection of sources below.