Trailblazers hope this new route that winds through the Valley will take stress off Appalachian Trail

The map, courtesy of the Great Eastern Trail Association, shows the network of paths that will be joined up to create the alternative route to the Appalachian Trail to take some pressure off it.

By Bridget Manley, publisher

A new long-distance hiking trail that will rival the Appalachian Trail in length is in the works, and parts of the route are already available to hike in the Valley. 

The Great Eastern Trail — or GET — is a planned network of trails ranging from Alabama to New York, covering hundreds of miles and passing through nine states. 

It will be a multi-use trail meant for hikers, horseback riding, and biking. For those who are supporting the new route, the hope is that the Great Eastern Trail will increase in popularity and take some pressure off the Appalachian Trail, which has seen its traffic increase since the pandemic began. 

The Appalachian Trail runs through 14 states, including Virginia, and has multiple entry points, making it difficult for park rangers to limit the number of people on the trail.  As a result, the Appalachian Trail experienced large crowds and everything that comes along with them.  

“Trails can take a pounding, and obviously, in the last year and a half, people have really been excited to get outside and go do new things,” said Steve Beri, recreation program manager for the North River Ranger District located in the George Washington National Forrest. “Trails need constant attention and love. The weather can take its toll on trails. Alleviating some of the pressure on high-use trails can obviously be very beneficial from an ecological standpoint.”

Beri said the beauty of the Great Eastern Trail is that it comprises trails already in use in order to become “one big monster trail.”

“One of the big things about this trail is that it’s made up of connectors,” Beri said. “It’s made up of dozens and dozens of trails, as opposed to the Appalachian Trail, which is one trail, one super trail.” 

Locally, the Great Eastern Trail passes through the Valley using the High Knob TrailCarr Mountain Trail and the Tuscarora Trail. Those trails go along Shenandoah Mountain, passing near or by High Knob, Bother Knob and Reddish Knob.

Organizers are still in the process of putting up signage and connecting the trails, but much of it is officially open. Volunteers with the PATC Southern Shenandoah Valley Chapter installed signage on High Knob this fall. 

Timothy Hupp, the Great Eastern Trail Association’s board president, said shelters and camping areas in sensitive areas of the Appalachian Trail, such as the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, are being overused, and the Great Eastern Trail can alleviate that ecological stress.

The trail was originally proposed in 1948 by Earl Shaffer, the first Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.  His idea, according to the Great Eastern Trail Association, was to create the trail west of the Appalachian Trail by stringing together some established paths. The project began in earnest, however, in 2007 when 11 trail groups banded together to create the Great Eastern Trail Association. 

Since then, its development has been an all-volunteer effort, much like the Appalachian Trail was when it was developed. 

Hupp said because the trail is not fully complete, only four people have thru-hiked the entire trail so far. 

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