What makes the Appalachian Trail so special? Its biodiversity

Brandon Paykamian • Oct 15, 2018 at 10:01 AM

Oct. 2 marked the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the National Trails System Act, which created a series of trails to promote the preservation of and public access to some of the most scenic outdoor hiking destinations many folks enjoy today.

One of those scenic trails is the Appalachian Trail, which stretches 2,200 miles between Mount Katahdin in Maine and Springer Mountain in Georgia. Today, this trail is reported to be the longest hiking-only trail in the world, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

But what makes this trail so special other than the fact that it provides an often much-needed escape from the pressures of modern life?

For me and many others, I’d imagine, it’s the wildlife and the biodiversity featured throughout the trail, which spans an ecosystem home to thousands upon thousands of species, including about 2,000 rare and endangered plant and animal species.

In the middle of it all is where we live, which is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the temperate world. Here, we are surrounded by some of the most untamed wildlife in the country and a domain in which beasts rule and humans are truly just visitors.

Here, you can find the American black bear, one of the largest animals along the Appalachian Trail. Black bears are often spotted around here, and sometimes find themselves wandering into towns. But they’re generally not confrontational toward humans and are more afraid of us than we are of them. On Oct. 8, one was found wandering the streets of Johnson City before being captured by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency and relocated to the Cherokee National Forest.

While the trail and the surrounding ecosystem — much of which is quite rugged — is regarded as relatively safe, there are a few hazards to keep in mind. Throughout the trial, various venomous snakes can be found, including rattlesnakes and copperheads, both of which are fairly common here. And while the Eastern mountain lion has been declared extinct for quite some time now, locals have reported sightings of its western counterpart migrating through the area.

Along with these species are various types of deer, elk, moose in the northern areas, and small mammals including chipmunks, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and raccoons, all of which reside in an ecosystem covered by some of the most diverse plant life in the country. These join an abundance of bird species including woodpeckers, blue jays, doves, wild turkeys and three owl and hawk species.

The species mentioned above do not even scratch the surface of what can be found throughout the trail and our area in which the trail passes through, but my point is this: while the National Trails System Act was designed to allow us access to these ecosystems, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, this ecosystem is not ours — it’s theirs.

In order for it to stay the scenic trail we know now, I think it’s important to remember and respect our place within this ecosystem every time we visit and do our best to disturb it as little as possible.




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