This past March marked the 96th anniversary of the very first section of the Appalachian Trail opening. That 13. 5 mile section linked Bear Mountain, New York, to Harriman State Park in Arden, New York. The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine, and Connecticut
History of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut
From Sherman to Salisbury, the Trail passes through what was once “iron country”. Northwest Connecticut was known as the “Arsenal of the Revolution” and by the middle of the 19th century most of the forests were cut to feed the blast furnaces in all the towns through which the Trail now passes. Along the Trail many former charcoal pits can be seen. They are easily identified as level, circular places in the forest about twenty feet in diameter where charcoal was once produced by controlled burning of trees and are often connected by remnants of old roads which the Trail follows in some locations.
In Falls Village the Trail passes by the massive canal built in 1851 (and never used) which serves as another reminder of the area’s industrial past.
In Kent, the Trail passes through the Schaghticoke Indian Reservation, which was established in the 18th century and is still active. On Bear Mountain, once thought to be the highest point in Connecticut, is a stone monument built more than 100 years ago and reconstructed to its present form in the fall of 1983.
Although the first segment of the Appalachian Trail was built in New York in 1923, not much else was done until 1929, when Arthur Perkins of Hartford, Connecticut, took on the task of persuading various groups to locate and cut the path in the wilderness. In Connecticut it became a project of the newly formed Trails Committee of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association.
From 1930 (when the Trail was built) to 1948, the entire Trail in Connecticut was maintained by its builder, Ned Anderson, for the CT Forest and Park Association. He is credited with blazing and cutting most of what is now the AT in Connecticut and maintaining it during those years with the help of his Boy Scout troop.
From 1949 to 1979, responsibility for maintaining the AT in Connecticut was divided between Seymour Smith of Watertown and the CT Chapter of the AMC. Seymour worked on the 23 miles of the Trail located east of the Housatonic River and the CT Chapter on the 33 miles to the west of the river. These assignments were made by the Appalachian Trail Conference.
In November of 1979, the CT Chapter of the AMC assumed responsibility for maintaining and managing all of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut as well as maintaining the “feeder trails” or blue-blazed trails which are connected to the Trail. The Chapter Trails Committee carries out these responsibilities.
In 1978, with the passage of the amendment to the National Trails System Act (also referred to as the Appalachian Trail Bill), a new era began for the Appalachian Trail. Prior to the amendment of the Act, the clubs in the Appalachian Trail Conference had been primarily concerned only with maintenance of the footpath. Since 1978, most have become involved with Trail protection and management as well.
LAND OWNERSHIP PATTERNS
In 1979 the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut was one-third on private land, one-third on state land and one-third on public highways for a total of 56 miles. In 1989 the National Park Service owned or had easements on approximately 34 miles of the Trail: 9 miles in Connecticut State forest, 3 miles on public roads and less than a mile still on private land with no protection. At the conclusion of the acquisition program, less than 2 miles will be on the road, half of that on a dirt, dead-end road with no houses. There will be no Trail on private land except by easement.
In 1978, the Connecticut Appalachian Trail Committee (CATC) was formed to help guide the National Park Service in its decisions concerning permanent protection of the Trail. This Committee was composed of representatives from organizations that have been historically concerned with the Trail including the Appalachian Trail Conference, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Housatonic Valley Association, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and The Nature Conservancy. In 1979 representatives of the five Trail towns (later six) were added. A full-time coordinator was hired by the AMC to act as a field representative for this Committee and to make most of the actual landowner contacts.
The Connecticut Appalachian Trail Committee continued to meet almost every month until December 1980, by which time the preferred route of the Trail had been established on paper (although not actually acquired) and the Committee ceased to function.
Meanwhile, as a direct result of pressure from landowners on the Trail, a subcommittee of the CATC was formed in February 1979. This Committee, known as the Connecticut Appalachian Trail Management Advisory Committee, functioned for over two years as an ad hoc Committee with many faithful members from the local communities who were neither members of a trail-related organization nor even, in some cases, hikers. The work of this Committee was considered finished in 1981, with the publication of a Connecticut Appalachian Trail Management Plan.
In 1984 the U.S. Department of the Interior recognized this volunteer tradition and formally delegated to ATC and its member clubs the day-to-day responsibility for not only maintaining the footpath but also managing and monitoring the lands it has acquired to permanently protect the Trail corridor. In Connecticut this means the CT Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club is responsible for managing and monitoring about 7,000 acres of Federal land.
While the actual boundary between Connecticut and Massachusetts is a short distance south of Sages Ravine, historically the crossing of the brook has, for practical purposes, been considered the state line and the Trail from this point south has always been maintained by the CT Chapter of the AMC. This section of the Ravine is still known as the Lorenz Memorial Area and has been so designated by an appropriate plaque. It abuts other Connecticut lands purchased by the Chapter. This approximately 80 acre parcel was sold in 1983 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as part of the Appalachian Trail protection program. The Commonwealth has since acquired abutting properties in the Ravine, including the other side of the brook.
Since 1980 many significant purchases and relocations have been made. The two largest purchases by the National Park Service in Connecticut were 1,200 acres in Salisbury from the Mt. Riga Corporation and 2,000 acres along the Housatonic River in Kent and Sharon from the Stanley Works. These two purchases did not require relocating the Trail. The most significant relocation was the so-called “western route”, opened in 1986, which completely removed the Trail from the Town of Cornwall and placed it on Sharon Mountain west of the Housatonic River, shortening the Trail by ten miles. Another relocation added five miles and extended the Trail into the town of Sherman.