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Appalachian Trail proponent, late Shirley resident to be focus of historical program

The Shirley Historic Society will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Appalachian Trail on Saturday, August 7. Shirley resident Benton MacKaye was credited as the originator of the trail with his 1921 publication “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” (Photo property of Shirley Historical Society, used with permission.)
The Shirley Historic Society will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Appalachian Trail on Saturday, August 7. Shirley resident Benton MacKaye was credited as the originator of the trail with his 1921 publication “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” (Photo property of Shirley Historical Society, used with permission.)
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SHIRLEY — Had it not been for the writing of late, longtime Shirley resident Benton MacKaye, the roughly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail may not exist today.

MacKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail in an October 1921 essay, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” published in the Journal of the American Institute of Architect. To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the publication, the Shirley Historical Society will present a program at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Shirley Historical Society Museum, 182 Center Road.

Saturday’s program features John and Trudy Phillips of Lynchburg, Va., who spent two years hiking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine. The Phillips are members of the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club, one of 31 trail clubs that maintain the Appalachian Trail in partnership with the Natural Park Service.

Shirley native Richard Evans will speak about the Benton MacKaye Trail on the Smoky Mountain ridges from northern Georgia to western North Carolina, which provides vital wilderness protection as a 287-mile companion trail to the Appalachian Trail. There will also be a chance to view MacKaye homes on Parker Road, visit his memorial stone in Center Cemetery, and view MacKaye memorabilia from the society’s collection.

Of the trail’s 2,200 miles, about 90 of them are in western Massachusetts, spanning the Connecticut border to the Vermont border. Along the way, the trail passes over Mount Everett and Mount Greylock.

James Niedbalski of Adams is a hiker who has completed the entire trail. He is a member of the Massachusetts Appalachian Trail Management Committee, which helps maintain and protect the trail’s Massachusetts corridor. He said volunteers maintaining the trail was part of MacKaye’s vision.

Niedbalski believes that for anyone hiking the trail, it is easy to become familiar with its history, and the historical events that happened in the areas it passes through. One example, Niedbalski said, can be found in southern Berkshire County. Along the trail in Sheffield, there is a monument commemorating the final battle of Shay’s Rebellion.

“You know, when you’re walking through that section, you see this plaque, and there’s a short description of what happened there. So there’s lots of that on the trail that is helpful,” Niedbalski said. “So even if someone had never heard of the Appalachian Trail … take a hike one day, you know, they’ll get a good sense of the history of the trail in that area.”

Niedbalski also believes one of the trail’s beauties is its “accessibility.” He said whether someone wants to go hiking for the afternoon or is interested in something spanning days, or weeks, the Appalachian Trail offers it. He also finds the trail offers a topographic variety.

“In Massachusetts, you know, the hike up Greylock is a 2,500-foot ascent, which can be very challenging. But you can pick other sections where it’s maybe generally flat for a few miles, and everything in between,” Niedbalski said.

For more information about Saturday’s program at the Shirley Historical Society, visit shirleyhistory.org.