Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
After two years of little-to-no events and activities aimed at assisting and welcoming Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers, Franklin has a full schedule planned.
On March 23, 2020, Sandra Marra, who was president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, issued the edict: “Please stay off the Appalachian Trail.” Thousands of A.T. thru hikers had already embarked on their 2,190 southbound journey from Springer Mountain in Georgia with a goal of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. However, she stated: “In these unprecedented times, I am making an unprecedented request: please stay away from the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Whether your hike is for a couple of hours or a couple of days. Staying away from the Trail minimizes the spread or contraction of COVID-19.”
Many hikers, who saved for months or years in order to accomplish the A.T., suddenly found themselves jumping off the trail in Franklin and assessing whether or not they needed to go home. Many did. And then, with the mandated quarantine that followed, all annual activities to support and celebrate hikers came to a halt.
This year, however, Franklin’s AT Mile110 Celebration provides a host of opportunities for not only hikers, but local residents and visitors to become educated about the outdoors and nature and to celebrate the age-old East Coast trail and the people traversing it.
Many entities, including such organizations as Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC), A.T Conservancy, and Mainspring Conservation Trust, along with various retailers and restaurants and the local breweries, come together to roll out a month’s worth of activities for Franklin’s AT Mile110 Celebration. Representatives of local entities have been meeting for several months within the Franklin A.T. Community Council to plan for the Celebration, which takes place essentially from the end of March to the end of April – when a majority of A.T. northbound hikers converge on Franklin.
For example, NHC hosts a Hiker Chowdown on April ; this event involves multiple volunteers coming together to feed hikers a homemade meal.
“Thru-hikers have stated repeatedly that Franklin is a town they would love to come back to following their journey,” noted Victor Treutel, current NHC president. “This is due to our friendly people, beauty of the area, and how we embrace the hiker community and the support we provide them.”
A Hiker Bash kicks off the spring celebration on March 26 and the main wrap-up is an Outdoor Music Bash and Gear Exchange on April 22.
To complement Franklin’s AT Mile110 Celebration, the Macon County Public Library hosts “Walking with Spring,” a series of films and programs that take place in the Meeting Room. Kicking off “Walking with Spring” is the Sally Kesler Memorial Art Reception. In addition,
there will be a yoga walk, a presentation on legendary hiker Grandma Emma Gatewood, a tutorial on the fundamentals of footwear, and instruction on how to respond to bear sightings. Anyone is welcome to attend “Walking with Spring.” More information is available on the library website or by calling the library at (828)524-3600.
In addition, First Baptist Church has provided breakfast annually at 7 a.m. for A.T. hikers from mid-March to mid-April. The breakfast includes pancakes, bacon, coffee, and juice. Like so much else in 2020, the breakfasts halted, but even as the pandemic continued in 2021 and the full A.T. spring celebration was not implemented, the church again served breakfast.
“Sometimes our volunteers make homemade breads and such,” said First Baptist Church’s Senior Pastor Dr. Robert Brown. “It takes five to seven of us to serve every day and we do it to minister to these folks who are literally from around the world. Pre-pandemic normal was for us to see folks from 15-20 foreign countries. Our intent is to encourage them on their hike, and to encourage them in life because of the hope Jesus Christ makes possible.”
SIDEBAR: Macon County Public Library’s “Walking with Spring” Schedule
– March 26, 3:00-5:00 p.m. Nantahala Hiking Club co-founder Sally Kesler Memorial Art Reception
– March 30, 5:15 p.m. Yoga Walk on the Greenway with yoga teacher Jennifer McIntee; sign up at www.beyondbendingyoga.com/schedule
– April 6, 6:00 p.m. “Fundamentals of Footwear,” with professional boot-fitter Kev Martin
– April 13, 6:00 p.m. “Grandma Emma Gatewood Returns,” with storyteller/AT hiker Nancy Reeder
– April 20, 6:00 p.m. “Are You BearWise? How to Co-Exist Safely with Bears,” with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Ashley Hobbs
– May 12, 6:00 p.m. documentary “Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story”