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Interview with Mike Leonard / The Conservation Fund
The following article was published in the
September - October 2007 edition of AT Journeys,
The Magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Written by Wendy K. Probst - Managing Editor of ATJ.
In 1985 the Alabama Trails Association rekindled a 60 year-old plan which would link the
Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega National Forest in Alabama to the Appalachian Trail in
northern Georgia. "The goal was to complete the original vision of the A. T., which called
for the extension trail into Alabama," said Mike Leonard, who founded the Alabama Trails
Association in 1985 and went on to help found the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association in the
1990's. Leonard, a North Carolina Lawyer, serves on The Conservation Fund's board of
directors and has also been extremely influential in the acquisition of several key
properties buffering the A. T. corridor including Rocky Fork in Tennessee and Wesser
Bald in North Carolina.
The original 1925 plan of the A. T. proposed a spur trail from Mt. Washington in New
Hampshire to Katahdin in Maine, as well as a trail from the mountains of Georgia into
northern Alabama. By 1940 the spur trail in Maine was complete, but the spur trail in
Alabama remained in the concept stage until now.
The initial challenge was in finding the most logical route that would link the Pinhoti Trail
to the Benton MacKaye Trail and then to the A. T. at Springer Mountain.
The construction of the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) spurred the Pinhoti Trail Project
when Leonard found out that construction of the BMT had also begun. The situation was
serendipitous as the BMT would take care of 75 miles of the trail connection.
"We have probably acquired a total of about 7,000 acres of land in Alabama and 400
acres in Georgia in the process," said Leonard. He points out that the land in Alabama was
acquired in large part due to USDA Forest Service, a state program called the Forever
Wild Program and in Georgia by The Conservation Fund. "I have actually walked more miles
on Capital Hill working on this project than I have on the trail itself."
At just over 300 miles, 137 miles of the Pinhoti Trail are in Alabama and 163 miles are in
Georgia. The entire project has taken 22 years to complete and very few setbacks have
occurred. "It has gone along much more smoothly than anyone had ever expected...these
things take time; you can't do them rapidly," said Leonard.
The project has sparked the enthusiasm and involvement of nearby communities. "I have
seen all of these other people get involved in this trail, how it has become important to
them and how they get their families out on the trail. That is what has been amazing," said
Leonard, "to have seen this whole community develop around that trail has been as
rewarding to me as seeing the trail completed."
Currently, 57 miles of the trail are road walk; most of those miles are in Georgia, near
the Coosa and the Conasauga River valleys. "We would like to get the trail off the roads
where we can," said Leonard when speaking about future plans. There are also plans to
extend the trail south 25 miles and the Forest Service is beginning to build the trail
south of Bull Gap. Leonard mentioned that they hope to connect the trail to Flagg
Mountain which lies at the southern most point of the Appalachians (about 40 miles north
of Montgomery Alabama) and rises 1,000 feet above sea level.
The trail is currently being completed and road walks are being marked this summer.
"The goal is to have a continuously marked trail by October 1," said Leonard. An official
celebration of the completion will be held in March of 2008 in Cheaha State Park where
Cheaha Mountain boasts the highest point in Alabama at 2,407 feet. The Pinhoti Trail runs
directly through the park.
For more information visit:
Alabama Hiking Trail Society:
Alabama Trails Association:
Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association:
pinhoti national recreation trail / pinhoti millennium legacy trail
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* revised numbering system: s1 = section number and 1.1 = section mileage. example: s1 ~ 1.1 *