Let’s keep the AT as pristine as possible

To the Editor:

In the winter of 1979, in the midst of studying for a degree at a large university, things weren’t going well. Academically I was OK, but emotionally, spiritually, I needed a break. One afternoon I returned to my dorm room, tossed my books, and headed out for a walk to clear my head. I wandered the main commercial drag. The scent of stale beer wafted from open doors of bars lining the street, calling to mind some weekend hangovers.

I ended up perusing an outfitter store’s bookshelf, finding Appalachian Hiker, about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I bought that book. It changed my life. I dropped a course and used that time to prepare for an AT section hike. On April 1, this fool began a memorable eight-week journey that took me 700 miles from Georgia to Virginia.

In retrospect, that journey was a pilgrimage. 

In her book Fumbling, a tale of her journey on an ancient Catholic pilgrimage trail in Spain, author Kerry Egan cites anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner, who describe the pilgrimage experience as “a time in which a person is separate and apart from everyday life and expectations, apart from the normal patterns and strictures of society. A pilgrim is in an in-between space for a little while, a time of both great transition and great potential. In this place you can learn and experience things that it would not be possible to learn while not on pilgrimage.“ That AT experience helped me understand who I am. 

I also experienced wonderful people on the AT — fellow hikers and trail angels. As Egan puts it, “a pilgrim experiences communitas, the elimination of differences between people of different ages, classes, and nationalities. Barriers between people are thrown aside as a great feeling of unity and connectedness brings people together in a way that seems impossible within the regular structures of society.“

I also experienced for the first time extended vistas of deep forested mountains. I had not realized such views were possible in the eastern U.S. — blue and smoky ridges extending to the horizon, unmarred by development. The Southern Appalachian Mountains are a unique and, for me, sacred place. After other adventures elsewhere, including the Andes and Himalayas, I returned 11 years ago to make this area my home.

Last week, again on the AT, I enjoyed the pristine view from Standing Indian Mountain, and recalled my pilgrimage of 33 years ago that, as Egan says, “is transformative, cleansing and purifying.”

Let’s maintain this AT experience for others. 

While the construction of a new cell tower in the Rainbow Springs area by Pegasus Tower is a certainty — it was approved by Macon County Commissioners in July — let’s encourage the company to reduce its visual impact through measures suggested by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, including setting the tower off the ridge, no or subtle lighting, and non-illustrative finish. 

Also, let’s encourage our Macon County commissioners to amend our Telecommunications ordinance to require notification to the ATC for any proposed tower within four miles of the AT. 

Dennis Desmond


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