Appalachian Trail Conservancy Archives

“When you’re on the Appalachian Trail, the forest is your universe, infinite and entire. It is all you experience day after day. Eventually it is about all you can imagine.”

From: “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail,” by Bill Bryson (New York: Broadway Books: 1999)


Appalachian TrailThe Appalachian Trail is a national treasure. The longest hiking-only footpath in the world, it measures roughly 2,190 miles in length and travels through fourteen states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian Mountain Range, from Maine to Georgia. More than 3 million people hike the trail every year.

The century-old history of this national treasure recently traveled to a new home. In May 2022, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) archival collection moved to the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) of the George Mason University Libraries to be professionally cataloged, preserved, and made widely available to the public.
Since 1925, the ATC has led the public-private effort to build, protect, and maintain the Appalachian Trail. The ATC collection provides extraordinary historical documentation of the entire history of the Appalachian Trail – from route-selecting correspondence of its pioneers in the post-World War I era to the documentation of its efforts to secure protection through the acquisition of a backcountry corridor in the last two decades of the 20th century. The collection’s extensive holdings include letters, trail shelter logs, legal documents, publications, approximately 2,000 photographs, films, and oral history recordings - and more than 1,000 maps. 
The historical value of this collection is exceptional – and so is the archival challenge it presents.  It is a large collection consisting of more than 850 linear feet of unprocessed materials. The University Libraries will need additional archivists and storage resources – both physical and digital - to employ state-of-the-art curatorial and archival practices to the processing, description, cataloging, selective digitization, and overall preservation of the collection.

The current work plan envisions organizing the manuscript materials following the original order that ATC gave to these items. The paper documents and photographs will be housed in archival folders and boxes. The audio-visual material and media files will be migrated to stable and appropriate digital formats following best practices for long-term digital preservation.  The entire collection will be cataloged and described in an online, searchable collection guide. In addition, we plan on digitizing many of the holdings to provide online remote access.
Donor financial support for George Mason University Libraries is critically needed to meet this archival challenge.  Our initial cost estimate for the additional resources required for organizing, preserving, digitizing, and making the Appalachian Trail collection readily available to researchers, students, trail enthusiasts, and the general public is $1.6 million.
The University Libraries request you consider supporting this major archival project to preserve and share the history of one of our nation’s greatest national treasures. With adequate funding secured, the goal is to have the Appalachian Trail collection fully curated, selectively digitized, and made broadly available within a period of two years. 

Our two-year goal is ambitious, but for good reason - we strongly believe that this collection is an outstanding component of our nation’s cultural history. It not only tells the history of the vision and efforts that made the Appalachian Trail a reality but will also serve as a catalyst and guide for future generations. 

If you are interested in supporting Mason’s efforts to transform the existing Appalachian Trail materials into a university-based research archive of profound historical, cultural, and environmental significance, please contact