One of the things we stress in our conservation work along the Appalachian Trail in Maine is that the A.T. is not just a trail. It’s a place where people do all kinds of things in addition to thru-hiking. People mountain bike in nearby trails, they ride ATVs, they use snowmobiles, they hunt, they fish, they ski, they geocache, they retreat into solitude, make livelihoods, they meet friends. They do even more than that. People live in communities along the A.T.; the trail is linked to those communities and they are linked to the trail. The same can be said about our conservation work – there’s no such thing as conserving a piece of land for a trail. The land is conserved for the people who use the trail in all these ways can continue to use the trail.
This idea was behind the start of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust’s High Peaks Initiative. Through this program we became involved in an effort by community to brand the region as a means of economic development in Franklin County. Stakeholders include local business, chambers of commerce, tourism officials, political figures, arts groups, local non-profits and individuals who wanted to get involved. The land trust’s part in this process was, surprisingly enough, to acquire the trademark to the term “Maine High Peaks”. This is not what a land trust usually does (but it’s not unheard of). We did this because we wanted to help out a group of people who wanted to help out their community, but we also did it because we can see the connection between the Appalachian Trail and the local towns in the High Peaks. This branding exercise will aid in economic development in the region, and that will include recreational tourism. Recreational tourists will hunt and fish and mountain bike in the area, but they will also be hiking on the Appalachian Trail. And without people hiking on the A.T., there wouldn’t be an A.T.