Appalachian Trail hikers
Kevin Rand from Flagstaff, Arizona adds his name to Outdoor 76′ Hiking Class of 2016 banner.

Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

The Franklin Appalachian Trail Community Council (FATCC) kicked off Franklin Trail Days, the month-long celebration of the Appalachian Trail on Saturday, just in time for Spring. Special events are scheduled throughout March and April until Earth Day and range from local hikes, documentaries and special meals just for hikers.

The Franklin Trail Days Celebration not only welcomes hikers to town from the First Day of Spring until Earth Day, but it also gives the community a chance to get out and enjoy all the Appalachian Trail has to offer.

“The FATCC is extremely excited about the 2016 AT Celebration period,” said Matthew Bateman, co-chair of the FATCC. “As usual, our community is stepping up to embrace the influx of both thru hikers, as well as section hikers, via multiple events that are designed to cater to them. Seeing all of the hikers coming into town this time of year always helps kick off the spring season in Franklin. We are very thankful for them, as they have a significant impact on our local economy. We expect 2016 to be a banner year for AT traffic into our community.  If you see a hiker out and about, please take the time to welcome them to Franklin – a Top Outdoor Town!”

Through a partnership between the Macon County Public Library, the Nantahala Hiking Club, and the FATCC, the library will host educational events several times a week about the Appalachian Trail and other outdoor adventure opportunities in Macon County.

The FATCC works to promote the month-long celebration, while local churches, businesses, and organizations each take part by hosting their own events for hikers and the community. The First Baptist Church hosts a free hiker breakfast seven days a week and even offers shuttle rides to hikers staying at the Budget Inn, Sapphire Inn, and Gooder Grove. The free breakfast began on March 14 and will continue until April 14.

The Nantahala Hiking Club will be helping hikers celebrate Easter on the trail by spreading12821551_489548987896589_9124363097469383347_n “trail magic” along the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikers along the trail around Franklin will encounter small bags of fruits, candies, and hard boiled eggs throughout Easter Weekend. Members of the Nantahala Hiking Club even include some dog treats for the four-legged hikers making the nearly 2,200 mile journey along the trail.

On April 2, Franklin’s American Legion Post 108 will be hosting 10 hikers participating in the annual Warrior Hike from Georgia to Maine at 11:30 a.m. at the post’s headquarters. The American Legion will host a free community lunch for the public to welcome the veterans to Franklin. A thru-hiker chow down sponsored by the Nantahala Hiking Club  and Lazy Hiker Brewing Company will also be held from 12 to 3 p.m. in the yard of the Lazy Hiker Brewery. A free chip-dog lunch will be served to all hikers.

Appalachian Trail magic
Main Street Coffee & Yogurt welcomes hikers with “trail magic” boards. Tickets are purchased by fellow hikers, local business owners, and Franklin residents to send AT hikers a little trail magic during their stop in Franklin.

The Lazy Hiker Brewing Company will also be hosting an Appalachain Trail Celebration night on April 9 featuring an outdoor concert by Porch 40,  a band well known for its blend of funk, southern rock, blues, and jazz starting at 7:30 p.m. On April 16, Gooder Grove Hostel will host a hiker cookout for those passing through on the weekend.

The Macon County Board of Commissioners designated April 23 as “Top Town” in Macon County in recognition of Franklin being designated as Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine’s 2015 Top Small Outdoor Town. Special events will be held throughout the day to celebrate the outdoor community in Macon County.

Trail magicThe FATCC’s month-long celebration will end with an all day celebration at Outdoor 76. The Beer, Bluegrass, and BBQ Spring Celebration will include art activities with the Macon County Arts Council, information about both the Appalachian and Bartram Trail from the Nantahala Hiking Club and N.C. Bartram Trail Society, and a lunch served by Smoky Mountain Bicycles with proceeds benefiting the proposed Macon County Bike. Park. Beer.

Outdoor 76 is teaming up with local conservation group Mainspring Conservation for a night of Bluegrass, BBQ, and celebrating all things Spring in Macon County. This will actually be the fourth year of the event, which has typically been held in the fall.

“We’re really excited to host it on a week that Franklin celebrates AT hikers, especially since Mainspring’s service area includes 142 miles of the AT,” said Molly Phillips with Mainspring Conservation Trust. “The view from that trail is special, and we’re proud to have had an impact in protecting so much of what they see while they’re hiking it.”

The partnership will connect outdoor enthusiasts with a group geared toward promoting the upkeep of outdoor recreation.

“They really wanted to connect their customers with the impact Mainspring has on their outdoor recreational options – they like to hike, paddle, fish and camp, and our work that keeps Western North Carolina beautiful enables them to enjoy those things,” said Phillips. “Being able to spread our message while having good food, good beer and listening to great music makes for a perfect combination.”