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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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(old rock fences, buildings, etc. along the A.T.)     
JANUARY 11, 2006
"We build too many walls and not enough bridges."
- Isaac Newton

Old rock wall in Virginia, May 29, 2005.

OK, so our friend Isaac Newton wasn't exactly talking about the Appalachian Trail, but something much more profound . . .

I had to laugh when I found this quote because it sums up my feelings about the AT pretty well!!

Most every culture on earth (at least where there are rocks) has a history of stacking stones to build walls and various structures to protect themselves against predators and Mother Nature and to define their territory. I don't know if Native Americans built many rock structures in what is now the United States, but settlers from Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth century wasted no time constructing rock walls and buildings all along the eastern part of this country.

And many of them are right next to the Appalachian Trail!

Granted, some are pretty overgrown and hard to see, but there are many fine examples of intact and crumbling rock walls, fireplaces, and old buildings that you can't miss. I learned about the history of some of the old settlements (such as the Brown Mountain Creek settlement in Virginia) and farms from the AT guides, but mostly had to just wonder about the families who built the structures and lived there long ago.

Luckily for us, people still hand-build stone walls and other rock structures today. The art of stacking stone is alive and well in our country, despite all of our technology and mechanization.

I'm no landscaping professional but I've had fun building stone retaining walls at a couple of previous homes. I just love fitting the stones together so they not only serve their purpose but are also esthetic. It's almost as satisfying to me as "playing in the dirt" (i.e., gardening).

Come along with me on a little tour of some of the old rock walls and other stone (and wooden) structures I found on the Appalachian Trail . . .


I think every state through which I ran and hiked (fourteen of 'em) had some low rock walls in the woods that were used to define territory and/or contain livestock in years past. Sure, there were plenty of trees to make wooden fences but there were also plenty of ROCKS that needed to be moved so fields could be cultivated. Why not use them to make fences?

In the intervening decades new trees have taken over abandoned fields. Hence, there are lots of old stone fences in the middle of the woods from Georgia to Maine.

Virginia, with its many farms and one-quarter of the length of the AT, sports many old stone fences. Some are barely discernable in the summer when the vegetation takes over (below, on Day 51):

Others are just plain attractive and close enough to touch without moving off the Trail (Day 30, at  the top of this page).

Some rock fences look almost thrown together (Day 50, below, in Virginia), while others (second below, from Day 69 in Pennsylvania) have more symmetry and style:


There are numerous rock walls in New Jersey's beautiful High Point State Park. Some still have quite elegant stacked stones, as in the next photo below. Others have seen better days, as shown in the jumble of rocks below that. Both photos were taken on Day 91.


In most places along the AT the rocks have been removed for easier passage where the Trail goes through old fences, as in this photo (Day 91 again). There were also a few times I had to climb OVER a rock fence, though.


There were also numerous low rock walls in New York's stately Harriman State Park (Day 96).

In New England we saw more rock fences around existing houses and fields than along the Trail, especially in Connecticut and Vermont. They were very attractive.


When some parts of the Trail were built in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and volunteer groups did an amazing job constructing rock retaining walls that remain fully functional today.

This is an example of rock work done by the CCC in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in the late 1930s:

There are many places in the section I ran on Day 56 where rock walls were built at the cliff edge to keep the Trail from eroding away. In some places the walls are six or eight feet tall (all below the trail surface, not sticking up). Some look very ancient with all the moss and lichens growing on them.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good camera angle on any of the tallest walls in the Shennies. The one above is only a couple feet tall. This one on an old railroad bed in New York shows the rock work better (Day 96):


There are several interesting ruins of old buildings and settlements along the Appalachian Trail.

One of the larger remnants is this wall of a huge barn that was on the old Camp Michaux property between Michaux and Pine Grove Furnace State Parks in Pennsylvania. The AT guide doesn't pinpoint when it was built, only that it dates "from the early days." This old church camp was also used as a CCC camp in the 1930s and held captured German submarine personnel in World War II.

I took this photo of the ruins on Day 63:

I saw a number of free-standing fireplace remains along the AT where there was no sign of the houses that used to be there (they were probably constructed of wood).

The first fireplace below is near the summit of Roan Mountain in Tennessee (Day 27). The second, more dilapidated one is north of Upper Goose Pond in Massachusetts (Day 103):


The finest example of an abandoned stone house is this one at the Torreytown Road crossing in New York from Day 96:

The other abandoned buildings I noticed were wooden structures, such as this old cabin or barn in Tennessee on Day 25 and the old Tilson's Mill in Virginia (below that). There is another view of the mill and the North Fork of the Holston River on Day 34:



One more interesting example of rock work is this newer stone bench in Pennsylvania on Day 65, overlooking an expansive view of the farms in the valley below. This was a good place to stop and contemplate all the beauty along the Trail and the people who used to live and work there.

The bench is a nice gesture by volunteers - and there are that many fewer rocks on the Trail!!

Next up: the large variety of fences and stiles along the Appalachian Trail (most come with nice pastoral views).

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil