Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
At the gazebo on Main Street in Franklin is a large wooden board erected by the Franklin A.T. Community Council. Due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, traditional events and activities during the months of March and April, when the bulk of Appalachian Trail thru hikers stop in Franklin to rest and resupply, are not happening this year. However, the FATCC, which is made up of representatives of the business community, local/county government, Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC), U.S. Forest Service, etc., wanted to do something to make hikers feel welcomed.
“There have been places for hikers to sign in various locations in Franklin over the years, including Outdoor 76, Lazy Hiker, the Rathskeller, and Currahee,” said Deborah Gedling, secretary of the NHC and a representative on the FATCC. “With the situation presented by COVID and the town as a whole being unable to have its typical celebrations all over town, we wanted the entire town (as opposed to individual businesses) to welcome all of the hikers. We are genuinely happy to have them here and wanted to show it.”
In addition to offering a place for hikers to sign their actual names and/or their trail names, the FATCC’s intention in making and installing the signature board is to provide a photo opportunity spot for hikers.
“We want to continue Franklin’s tradition as a welcoming and friendly trail town,” said Gedling, who added that the group intends for the signature board to be displayed annually by the gazebo from at least the first day of spring through around Earth Day – considered “hiker season.”
So far, the numbers of hikers visiting Franklin has been “substantial.”
“I’ve been out on the trail several times in the past couple of weeks doing what are called Trail Ambassador hikes and I can attest to there being lots of thru-hikers … section and day hikers, too,” said Gedling.