Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail — those hearty souls who attempt the entire 2,170-mile trek from Georgia to Maine from start to finish — will soon be arriving in droves in Western North Carolina.
To finish the trail before the New England winter sets in, hikers must set out on the trail in Gerogia in mid to late-March. That lands them here just about now, witnessed by the number of backpack-burdened hikers hitching rides into town to stock up on provisions. Of the hundreds who set out to thru-hike the trail, only 25 percent make it. Most drop out the first month.
This year, hikers will have a little extra encouragement in their early weeks with a line-up of festivals to look forward to if they keep on moving.
April Fool’s Trail Days in Franklin
Just one year ago this month, Franklin became an official Appalachian Trail Community, solidifying the relationship this Macon County town long has enjoyed with thru-hikers.
The Appalachian Trail passes 11 miles from Franklin at its closest point near Winding Stair Gap. A series of events are planned in Franklin: April Fool’s Trail (the third year this has been held) and the annual Hiker Bash.
Linda Schlott, executive director of the Franklin Main Street Program, said a survey of hikers conducted by the local hiking group, Nantahala Hiking Club, revealed each AT hiker who comes into Franklin spends an average of $150 each during the visit.
“I think the business owners see that the hikers don’t just come and restock and get back on the trail,” Schlott said, adding that Macon County has learned to view the presence of the famous hiking trail as an economic asset.
The exact number of hikers coming through hasn’t been pinpointed, she said, but it adds up to “a lot.”
Here’s the line-up in Franklin:
• The 7th Annual Hiker Bash will be held on both Friday and Saturday night, April 1 and 2, and will include food, music and entertainment at 6 p.m. each evening at the Sapphire Inn Motel on East Main Street. This is a venue for thru-hikers to share stories and meet former thru-hikers of the AT. 828.524.4431.
• Friday, April 1: Warren Doyle has hiked the Appalachian Trail more times than anyone else. Hear his story during a special presentation at Franklin Town Hall beginning at 7 p.m. The presentation runs from 90 to 120 minutes. Jennifer Pharr Davis will also be speaking.
• Saturday, April 2: More Warren Doyle’s “Stories from the Appalachian Trail.”
The program will last from 75 to 90 minutes.
• Saturday, April 2: Acclaimed bluegrass group Buncombe Turnpike will headline Trail Days entertainment. There will be two sets of music, at 11 a.m. and again at noon.
• Saturday, April 2: The Iotla Valley Elementary Chorus and the South Macon Elementary Chorus will perform a joint concert at the gazebo stage beginning at 1 p.m.
Under the direction of Michael Tyson, the students will perform a wide selection of songs, including songs about North Carolina and the region we live in.
• Macon County Public Library displays winning photographs from the second-annual “Walking with Spring” photography contest. Photos on display until April 8, and all photos are related to the Appalachian Trail.
• Wednesday, March 30: The Appalachian Trail Documentary: A Walk for Sunshine at 7 p.m. the Macon County library. 828.524.3600.
• Thursday, March 31: Join artist Michael M. Rogers for a program at the Macon County library at 7 p.m. as he takes you on virtual hikes in the surrounding mountains. Experience the beauty through nature photography and music. 828.524.3600.
• Thursday, March 31: “The Unsung Hero Hike,” leaving from the Bartram Trail intersection at N.C. 106 near Scaly Mountain, follow a guide from Outdoor 76 south into the Appalachian escarpment toward the Georgia border. Total hike about five miles, it is of moderate difficulty. 828.349.7676.
AT Founder’s Bridge Festival in Nantahala Gorge
Nantahala Outdoor Center has a long and rich association with AT hikers — the trail passes through the heart of NOC on a footbridge over the Nantahala River. To celebrate and deepen this connection, the outfitter will hold its first AT Founder’s Bridge Festival April 8-10.
Weekend day hikers, long distance warriors and outdoor enthusiasts alike are invited to share their passion with a like-minded trail community in honor of the trail that bisects NOC’s campus in the Nantahala Gorge. Trail-steeped speakers will share their knowledge, humor and experiences in hands-on workshops and presentations. Gear representatives will demo product, provide support, and sponsor lots of great product giveaways and door prizes.
• The women’s AT speed record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis will make a presentation and sign books on Friday, April 8.
• The weekend’s keynote speaker will be Andrew Skurka, renowned long-distance backpacker and ultrarunner. Skurka, recognized as “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic and “Person of the Year” by Backpacker, has thru-hiked the AT and many other long-distance routes. He will be leading two lightweight-backpacking skills clinics throughout the weekend, as well as giving a presentation Saturday evening on his recent Alaska-Yukon expedition (as featured in the March issue of National Geographic).
• Visit Gear Fair, packed with manufacturer’s reps touting the latest and greatest in backpacking gear.
• Purchase any pair of Patagonia footwear during the event at NOC’s Outfitter’s Store, and $10 will be donated to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
• Enjoy live music from Asheville’s homegrown bluegrass group, Stumpwater. With a mix of pure Carolina drive and strong four-part vocals, the band plays a repertoire rich in original material and favorite covers.
All activities take place on NOC’s Wesser campus, and are free of charge and open to the public. Go to “Events” at noc.com or call 828.488.7244.