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Appalachian Trail Days has become the heart of Damascus

By Lacy Hilliard
Each year, the tiny town of Damascus, Virginia, or perhaps better known to some as ‘Trail Town U.S.A.’ triples in population with the coming of the much celebrated Appalachian Trail Days festival. ‘Trail Days’ is a celebration of Appalachian Trail thru hikers both past and present. The thru hiker is defined as one that intends on completing the vast expanse of the AT in a single season. Trail Days honors this feat of mental and physical endurance and many have come to see it as a sort of hiker family reunion as it attracts previous thru hikers from all over the country; traveling from far and wide to reunite with friends and relive a bit of former Appalachian Trail glory.
The Appalachian Trail or commonly known as the ‘AT’ spans approximately 2,200 miles of ridgelines and forestland from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine and is perhaps the most celebrated American trail system. Benton MacKaye, an American forester and conservationist, originally proposed the concept for the AT in 1921. In his article titled “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” MacKaye detailed his plans for the AT. The introductory paragraph in MacKaye’s article reads “Something has been going on these past few strenuous years which, in the din of war and general upheaval, has been somewhat lost from the public mind. It is the slow quiet development of the recreational camp. It is something neither urban nor rural. It escapes the hecticness of the one, and the loneliness of the other. And it escapes also the common curse of both – the high powered tension of the economic scramble. All communities face an “economic” problem, but in different ways. The camp faces it through cooperation and mutual helpfulness, the others through competition and mutual fleecing.” Interestingly, MacKaye’s introduction to the Appalachian Trail Project is curiously similar to the modern-day description of the trail. The AT is a physical and mental challenge but it’s also an escape, a means to forget the civilized world and commune with the simpler things in life. In August of 1937, MacKaye’s vision was realized and the Appalachian Trail was officially established.
The Appalachian Trail Days festival began in 1987 and has grown in size and popularity each year since. The festival is truly a town wide effort with many residents, businesses, and local churches pitching in to help welcome the hikers. True to its spirit, the 2015 Appalachian Trail Days festival offered a wide array of hiker centric activities. One Way Ministries of Damascus, VA provided a variety of free services to the hikers, including haircuts, sewing repair and a small supplies kit. One Way Ministries has been providing various community services in Damascus for over 10 years including a food pantry and a thrift store.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this weeks Tomahawk.