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Alabama Touts Path to Appalachian Trail in Georgia

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Alabama Touts Path to Appalachian Trail in Georgia

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Alabama Touts Path to Appalachian Trail in Georgia

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

If tourism officials in Alabama had their way, the southern end of the Appalachian Trail would end in their state. Their hopes are bound up in a natural path that connects the famous trail where it now ends officially, in Georgia, to the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama.

From member station WBHM in Birmingham, Steve Chiotakis explains.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Under a canopy of short-leaf pine and hickory trees, Greg Line(ph) hikes near the crest of Alabama's highest peak, Mount Cheaha. He traverses red dirt and rocks and renegade tree roots that form a sort of a staircase through nature with his beloved old sassafras walking stick.

Mr. GREG LINE: Yeah, it goes with me on almost every hike. Yes.

CHIOTAKIS: He could've used it 20 years ago, when he and a buddy hiked the Appalachian Trail - or A.T., as it's known. It was an arduous 2,000-mile trek.

Mr. LINE: There were days when it was more work than it was fun, and you just had to get up in the morning and put on that pack and get the job done.

CHIOTAKIS: It was remembering that five-and-a-half month hike and being curious about nature from his days in the Boy Scouts that got Line involved in state conservation. Ultimately, he would help others piece together the Alabama land that now connects to the A.T.

Outdoor tourism officials and state boosters like Stewart Dansby say that's a no-brainer.

Mr. STEWART DANSBY (Alabama State Booster): Most people in the country don't know much about geography. People need to know the Appalachian Mountains end in north central Alabama.

CHIOTAKIS: That effort began recently at Mount Cheaha.

(Soundbite of machinery)

CHIOTAKIS: Workers gingerly place a massive granite and limestone boulder and plaque that commemorates the completion of the Pinhoti Trail. In a dedication ceremony, attorney Mike Leonard, whose idea spans 25 years, said the pathway highlights the area's geographic blessings.

Mr. MIKE LEONARD (Attorney): I believe in the state of Alabama, and I believe in the beauty of this state. And I believe that it is something that the rest of the country needs to know about. They need to appreciate.

CHIOTAKIS: It was the conservationist Benton MacKaye, who in 1921 envisioned the Appalachian Trail as a refuge from the urban environs of the East Coast. And now the Alabama Pinhoti meanders 115 miles to the Georgia border and ultimately to Springer Mountain, the original southern endpoint of the A.T. in Georgia.

Tom Cosby, with the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, says the original northern end point was in New Hampshire, but was officially extended. The same, he says, could happen in Alabama.

Mr. TOM COSBY (Regional Chamber of Commerce, Alabama): Our hope is with time -I don't know, five years, 10 years, 20 years - at some point, perhaps the Appalachian Trail Conference would say, well, you know, so many people hike the entire length of the Appalachians and they don't end at Springer Mountain. They actually end in Alabama. Why don't we sanction it and say that the Appalachian Trail now ends in Alabama?

CHIOTAKIS: Cosby says state officials haven't officially asked for the trail to be extended into Alabama, but they hope it will become sort of a de facto end and eventually be recognized.

For their part, Georgia officials at a state park near Springer Mountain say they have no position on the Alabama plan, which could siphon hikers and tourist dollars away.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy also has not taken an official stand, but executive director David Startzell says such a move would require an act of Congress.

Mr. DAVID STARTZELL (Executive Director, Appalachian Trail Conservancy): It would have to be an amendment to the National Trails System Act, which provides a fairly general description of the route of the trail. But it's detailed enough that clearly an extension into Alabama wouldn't fit the current definition.

CHIOTAKIS: The National Trails System Act of 1968 places both end points at Mount Katahdin, Maine and Springer Mountain, Georgia, so the wording would have to be changed. Regardless, the Alabama Pinhoti is there for the hiking. No matter what's called, it is an uninterrupted path all the way to Maine.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Chiotakis in Birmingham.

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