pinhoti trail project.
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:
www.hikealabama.org,
Alabama Trails Association:
www.alabamatrailsasso.org,
Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association:
www.georgiapinhoti.org


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