Ever wander though a national forest with an overwhelming sense of awe? Hike a trail like the A.T. and feel grateful that your path will take you as far as you care to go? Camp under the stars at Yosemite or Shenandoah or Dolly Sods?
It's no accident that these lands are here for you and me. It's thanks to the passion and commitment of people who knew that every piece of land shouldn't be up for grabs to the highest bidder and that some of the most majestic places should be held in trust for all of us.
That's the story of Jeff Ryan's latest book, This Land Was Saved for You and Me, a fascinating exploration of the people who advocated for America's lands and waters. The book, Ryan's seventh, comes out September 1 this year and can be preordered now. Recently, we had a chance to ask Ryan a few questions about his new book.
What was the inspiration for this book?
“This Land” is really the result of a progression that started with my first book, Appalachian Odyssey (the story of my 28-year section hike of the AT). In writing my thoughts down, I began to more fully appreciate how the trail came into being and its ongoing protection and maintenance.
This naturally led me to consider the context of the creation of the AT in relation to our public lands in general. Who were the pioneers in establishing our national parks and forests? What challenges did they face? The more I dug, the more I realized how fascinating a story it is (particularly how Benton MacKaye’s life intersected with so many aspects of the narrative).
How long have you been working on the book?
In some ways, seven years, but my focus on This Land exclusively has been really the last three years. My tendency is to keep researching a subject until I have the “aha moment” about how to tell the story, which is when the writing phase kicks off. I had been playing around with different ways to approach the subject until this one became the clear winner.
Did you travel much while researching the book?
I have always been intrigued by the question of how much the physical environment of where people were raised affected their outlook on nature and the world. So, I try to get to the places where the giants of conservation were both raised and where they did their best writing.
For this book, I visited some really great places including Aldo Leopold’s childhood home in Iowa and the shack where he got the inspiration for A Sand County Almanac. I also went to the home of George Perkins Marsh in Vermont. Marsh wrote an incredibly influential book called Man and Nature in 1864 that was the first to question practices such as indiscriminate clear cutting of forests (which was common then) and the resulting damage (primarily mudslides, flooding and the destruction of fisheries). He even foretold of the prospect of climate change, which was probably the first mention of it.
Similar research took me to eastern and western Pennsylvania, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, Walden Pond and the Great Smoky Mountains. I also spent time at the USFWS archives in Shepherdstown, WV, which is always a treat. (The greatest danger there for me is getting sidetracked there is so much fascinating material for potential new projects.)
Did you discover a new favorite hiking spot while out on the road?
I try to make time to walk every day when I’m researching and writing, but the deeper into a project I get, the more difficult it is to get away. I am prone to getting on a roll and not wanting to allow current thoughts to escape before I write them down.
That said, I did get a chance to log some miles on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin and the Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia. In fact, after the book was completed, I went back and did the VCT from end-to-end as kind of a celebration.
What's something that surprised you during the research?
I was at a point in the process where I was trying to shut off all distractions, so I could focus only on writing This Land. A dear friend kept trying to urge me to read a book about Rudyard Kipling’s years in Vermont. I told him I didn’t have time, but he said, “It’s a quick read.”
For whatever reason, I caved in. That weekend, I was reading the book and almost fell out of my chair when I read that Steele MacKaye (Benton MacKaye’s father) rented a cottage in Bennington, Vermont, where he took the family to enjoy the surroundings while he hunkered down to write plays and that Rudyard Kipling rented the same cottage shortly thereafter while he waited for his home to be built in Bennington, just up the road. It was just one of several intersections of famous and not-so-famous people whose paths crossed during the telling of the story. It was also a reminder to me that some side trails are worth taking (and necessary).
What do you hope readers will get out of the book?
The oft-told story is that our parks, forests and wilderness areas exist because a few well-known, influential people wouldn’t take no for an answer. It’s an easy to tell story and largely accurate.
But when you peel back a few layers, we see a number of people who were raising alarms about rampant environmental destruction and the need for federal management of at least some lands in the name of the public good many years before. I hope readers will find the contributions of people like Franklin Benjamin Hough, Carl Schenck and Howard Zahniser—people who gave everything they had to advance the cause of forests and wilderness areas—as inspiring as I did.
Looking for a new day hike? Thinking about going the distance? Looking to up your trail cuisine game? Or backpack in comfort?
We've got you covered.
We're filling in our schedule of talks and activities suited for everyone from hiking novices to time-tested trail trekkers.
From Appalachian Trail Conservancy President Sandi Marra to adventurer/author Jeff Ryan to A.T. legend Warren Doyle, we'll be talking trails. Not to mention...hiking responsibly. (Thanks, Appalachian Mountain Club for your Leave No Trace presentation.)
Most people who dream of hiking the entire 2,194 miles of the Appalachian Trail think of the hike as a "NoBo" (northbound) path leading from Georgia to Maine. It can be, but that's not the only way to complete a thru hike. Others approach the Trail as a "SoBo" hike from Maine to Georgia.
And, then, there's a third approach to a thru-hike: the Flip-Flop. Hike half the Trail in one direction, and hike the second section in the other direction. Having hikers tackle the Trail from different starting points, at different times, is good for hikers—and for the Trail itself.
The Flip Flop Festival, held in Harper's Ferry and Bolivar, WV, encourages this approach, as it sees off a group of "Flip-Floppers" and celebrates the A.T. in general.
On April 23rd, a series of free workshops appeals to thru-hikers, as well as hikers of all distances. Want to stay healthy on the Trail? Keep your feet happy? Treat the Trail with respect? Workshops held at the Harpers Ferry Center Outdoor Plaza have all this and more covered. Then, stay in town for talks and tunes at the Barns of Harper's Ferry.
Sunday, April 24, features the traditional Flip-Flop send-off pancake breakfast and a family hike.
With mountain vistas, hikers on the trail, wildflower blooms, waterfalls and sunsets (not to mention birds, bunnies and bears), the 2022 Round Hill Appalachian Trail Art Show was a beautiful celebration of the Trail and the Great Outdoors.
This year, the Round Hill A.T. Festival sponsored "People's Choice" awards, and 40 pieces in the show received votes. The final tally was close, and we thank all the artists who shared their work with us. You can see the entire show on the Round Hill Outdoors website. Thanks, too, to Eric Scott at the Round Hill Arts Center for hosting (and hanging!) the show.
Here are the top five "People's Choice" selections (in alpha order by name):
Congratulations to all the artists!
Is nature your inspiration? It is for the artists of all ages who submitted work to the 5th Annual Round Hill Appalachian Trail Art Show.
Why does Round Hill have an A.T. art show? Since being designated as an official A.T. Community by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Round Hill is committed to promoting and protecting the A.T. and all the other beautiful green spaces that surround our town. Helping people see the beauty of this nature is part of our mission.
"I'm always inspired by the wealth of talent and creativity among our local artists of all ages," says art show Director Susan Stowe. "They really captured the beauty of the A.T. and the wild nature all around us. Every year, the show keeps getting better."
You can see this year's art show in person or online:
The Round Hill A.T. Festival is sponsoring a “People’s Choice” competition. Visit the Arts Center or go online to select up to five works you think capture the spirit of the Appalachian Trail and the beauties of nature. What makes you want to "get outside"?
Send the name of the five works and the artists to our contact form. Winners will receive prizes from the festival, and the works will be featured in festival promotions.
We are honored to have the support again this year of Warm Peet, a hiking sock company with a heart. And we're happy to announce that Warm Peet will be joining us at the festival again this year.
Recently, we talked with Chief Marketing Strategist Jess Warren about this extraordinary company that donates 100% of its profits to mental health and nature conservation nonprofits. (Like our festival!)
What inspired you to get started in the sock business?
We are avid hikers, campers, and lovers of the outdoors. We understand the importance of a sock that won't let you down on the trail or wherever your adventures take you.
The two most important things when hiking are a happy mind and happy feet. We hope to help in both ways. First, by providing a high-quality Merino wool sock that provides maximum comfort. Secondly, we know there is a huge connection to being outdoors and good mental health. We hope our socks will encourage people to get outside and move.
Can you tell us a little more about the name "Warm Peet"?
It all starts with a young boy who is very special to Rick Oxner, our owner and CEO. As little kids do, the boy would adorably mispronounce words. One of the things he would always say was, "My peet are told.” It always made Rick laugh then, and to this day, many years later, we still use that saying and we still laugh. Not too long ago, this boy (then a young man) took his life. Keeping our “peet” warm is a way to remember him while helping others in their journey towards good mental and physical health.
Mental health affects us all and mental health care and resources should be available to all. However, we know that isn’t always the case. Therefore all of our profits are donated to organizations supporting mental health services/suicide prevention and outdoor recreation/nature preservation. So far, we’ve donated $7000!
In addition to donating all your profits, your company is known for its commitment to sustainability. Can you tell us how that works into your business practices?
Rather than being shipped from another country around the world, our socks are manufactured here in the United States—in North Carolina, to be exact. We are also committed to reducing waste. We take every effort possible to be socially and environmentally conscious in the products we produce.
Our packaging container can be reused again and again in so many ways—hiking, crafting, in the garage, as a planter, for my sons’ rock collections, for leftovers.... There are also no single-use plastics. Not even those tiny little plastic connectors you find on most pairs of socks.
Was the Round Hill A.T. Festival your debut event?
Yes, it was! Our first socks were sold at the festival last year.
Ever since then, we've gotten five-star reviews from every single customer! They tell us they love our socks. They wear them everywhere, not just on the trail. When working out, when riding their bike, at work, or just sitting on the couch.
Has the Warm Peet "family" hiked any of the A.T.?
Rick hiked about 1,100 miles of the A.T. SOBO (south bound) in 2017. He was also my “guide” for my first A.T. section hike. We did 40 miles for my 40th birthday last year. I couldn’t imagine a better way to begin this new decade of my life—though I could do without all of the spiderwebs in the face!
Most of the time, I hike with my two boys (8 and 6 years) on trails in the Northern Virginia area—and there are so many available to us.
Check out Warm Peet's socks at the festival on June 11th!
Round Hill AT: Join us in bringing together local friends and family to get outside. Let’s discover our amazing backyards — from national treasures like the Appalachian Trail to new local and regional parks.