While hiking along the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania I crossed a road and found myself in a very non-Appalachian Trail setting: broken bags of trash, random tires, shell casings, and an old rusty truck in the middle of the “trail”. Since I left Springer Mountain in Georgia over 1,000 miles ago I had not encountered anything like it. When I came upon the rotten deer carcass, minus the head of course, I started to think that I might not be on the Appalachian Trail anymore.
But how could I have gotten lost on one of the world’s longest marked continual footpath ? I had been following the same “white blazes” that mark the AT from Georgia to Maine. Many people don’t know this, but volunteers mark trees or rocks with rectangular “blazes” of white paint to help people find their way. So I decided to turn around and backtrack to where I had crossed the road just in case I somehow missed the trail. When I returned to the road-crossing I met a local hiker who told me that the trail was actually up the road about 100 yards from where I had originally crossed. He went on to tell me that the white paint splotches I had been following are boundary markers that the state of Pennsylvania uses to notify hunters that they are within 300’ of the trail.
A few years after I finished hiking the trail, a neighbor stopped by the house and told us that he had recently purchased some property in the North Carolina mountains at a great deal. While he was out exploring his new property he ran into some strange white paint markings on some of the trees. He was just a few feet away from his property line. After some research he discovered that his property backed up to the Appalachian Trail. He was very excited…that is until he found out that he couldn’t build his vacation cabin where he originally wanted to, due to laws about building proximities along National Scenic Trails.
In the end, a little research on both of our parts would have helped our two different situations. As a hiker I could avoid being mistaken for Bambi, and our neighbor could have avoided getting his hopes up for the perfect cabin spot on property he bought for a steal.
Written by Ross Bonnewell, owner of TrailShuttles.com, a website dedicated to assisting hikers, bikers, and paddlers get to their next Western North Carolina adventure.