International Appalachian Trail: Collection from the Founders

By Jordis Rosberg. MHS Project Archivist

In the summer of 2021, Maine Historical Society received the papers and records of the Maine chapter of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) from founders Richard Anderson and Don Hudson. Anderson first conceived of the IAT in 1993 as a trail that would extend north along the eponymous mountain chain from the Appalachian Trail’s terminus at Katahdin, Maine, across the border into Canada and, eventually, across the Atlantic Ocean. This trail would follow the geological remnants of the original range formed by the supercontinent Pangea hundreds of millions of years ago, which today spans portions of the United States, Canada, Greenland, Western Europe, and North Africa.

Richard Anderson, 1996

It was no small feat to take the seed of this idea for an International Appalachian Trail and turn it into a reality. The organizational records gifted to MHS (Coll. 4213) reveal years’ worth of thoughtful route planning, land lease agreements, public relations, campsite creation and maintenance, and cooperative work with representatives and trail enthusiasts in a dozen countries. To accomplish these many and varied tasks, IAT incorporated as a non-profit, established a board of directors, created trail guides, maps, and other merchandise to assist hikers and raise funds, and corresponded with Maine landowners and lawmakers. The IAT collection offers a crash course in grassroots efforts, perseverance, and the physical and cultural contours of trails and hiking. The magnitude of the IAT undertaking is clear with just a quick glance at the 27 archival boxes packed with material.

Informational material by SIA-IAT, representing the trail in Canada
and the United States
Map by Charlie Gilman depicting proposed routes for the trail through the Saint Croix Lake region.

The collection contains more than administrative and organizational records, however. Filed amongst the various IAT documents, records, maps, and plans are also newsletters and brochures of other trail associations in the U.S., Canada, and beyond. Folders with pages from trail registers containing notes left by hikers using IAT lean-tos complement letters from thru hikers sharing their experiences of and suggestions for the trail.

Carefully penned and hand-drawn plans for routes and drafts of trail guides are housed alongside correspondence revealing the depth of thought, planning and detail that went into the creation and maintenance of the IAT. And throughout are hundreds of photographs documenting the beauty of Northern Maine and Canada. All of these records together immerse the user in the world of long-distance hiking – its language, camaraderie, and particular quietude.

Architectural drawings for an IAT lean-to, 2005

The IAT collection has many potential uses. Certainly, anyone with an interest – personal, professional, or scholarly – in hiking, trails, non-profit organizations, and Maine’s recreational land use would find much of note in the collection. Anderson and Hudson delivered the IAT materials particularly well-organized, and this fact, coupled with their overall diligence in record keeping, means that the IAT collection also offers an interesting glimpse into general organizational processes and administration. 

Altogether, the IAT collection is one of historic, aesthetic, organizational, and human interest. We look forward to sharing it with visitors to the MHS Brown Research Library in the years ahead, and to learning more about its connections to the people, places, and story of Maine. 

Jordis Rosberg is an archivist and librarian who processed this collection for MHS as part of an internship sponsored by the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).

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