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Wednesday, 06 June 2007 00:00

New shelter graces Wayah Bald

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After Ann McDuff was struck and killed while riding her bicycle in February 2003, her husband, Larry, spearheaded a money-raising effort to build a shelter in her memory along the Appalachian Trail.

The couple enjoyed a minimalist lifestyle together in coastal Fairhope, Ala., that included working on an organic farm in exchange for vegetables. They hiked the A.T. in 1994 after Larry McDuff retired as an IBM salesman, finishing it on his 54th birthday. Their trail names were “Annie and the Salesman.”

Their son, Laurence, one of the couple’s four children, said his parents subsequently hiked the John Muir Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and some of the Continental Divide Trail.

A trail shelter, he said, seemed a fitting tribute to honor his mother.

“Dad somehow managed to carry on in his suddenly solitary life by doing things that brought him joy, such as bread making, meditating, and riding his bicycle,” Laurence McDuff wrote via email correspondence. “Hiking, however, would never be the same without Mom.”

Larry McDuff had no trouble quickly raising the $10,500 needed for materials through family and friends, and worked with Don O’Neal, trail supervisor for the Nantahala Hiking Club, in selecting a site near Wayah Bald in Macon County.

He wouldn’t live to see the shelter built.

On June 13, 2005, McDuff was struck and killed by a motorist while riding his bicycle to work on the organic farm.

The shelter, built earlier this month, is now serving as a temporary home to hikers in both of their memories. O’Neal said a plaque bearing their names will be placed at the shelter, which is about three-fourths of a mile north of Wayah Bald on the AT.

The shelter will accommodate up to eight hikers and serves as a resting point along an eight- to nine-mile stretch of the 2,143-mile Georgia-to-Maine trek. There’s also a new handicapped-accessible privy, O’Neal said.

The 300-member Nantahala Hiking Club maintains a 60-mile stretch of the trail from about Wesser in Swain County to Black Gap outside of Hayesville. Without the club’s willingness to build the shelter, the work simply couldn’t have gotten done, said Brian Browning of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wayah Ranger District.

“We just don’t have the time or the manpower to do a project like this,” he said. “The Nantahala Hiking Club is a huge asset to the district.”

Work on the shelter included four days of pre-building. The coded material was then disassembled, packaged, bundled and flown in to the site by helicopter.

The $5,000 cost to airlift the materials was paid by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Morgan Sommerville, regional director for North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, said three shelters — including the new one at Wayah — have been built in the last couple of years along the section of the A.T. running from Georgia to Tennessee.

Given how few are built, Nantahala Hiking Club member Tom Rodgers said he jumped at the chance to help.

“It was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Rodgers, who described his work with the hiking club as “payback” for the many times he and his family enjoyed hiking in this region before moving to Western North Carolina from northwest Florida.

 

Special thanks

The McDuff family wanted to thank the Nantahala Hiking Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, the Konnarock Trail Crew, Don O’Neal of the Nantahala Hiking Club, the Jones Family of Macon County, and all those who donated money to help build the shelter.

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