Four million steps from Georgia, Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Smooth Sailin’ is heading North to Katahdin in Maine, about 400 miles away. Behind him lies 1700 miles of simple needs: food, shelter, laundry, occasional showers. Next stop is Hanover, an AT hiker favorite with its cheap restaurants, ample services, and a rich history of AT involvement.
But Norwich is right on the trail, too, and coming down Elm Street, a hiker may stumble across a cooler with free food and offers of help and support. It’s something Norwich – a newly designated “Appalachian Trailside Community” – has in abundance: Trail Magic.
“You’re not exactly on the map,” says Mary from Massachusetts as she and her hiking buddies head towards the Ledyard Bridge after a brief stop at Dan & Whit’s. It’s true: the Appalachian Trail guides have lots of dots in Hanover, but only a token few in Norwich.
But on a hot August morning I meet 60-year old “Strider” from New Jersey outside Dan & Whit’s, and he’s thrilled with Norwich all the same. He likes the atmosphere here. “It’s the kind of place on the trail I’d like to bring my wife back to see next year,” he says. After considering his options, he still heads to Hanover to spend the night, but our little town has made an impression.
Other than day-old sandwiches at Dan & Whit’s, what can we offer this motley crew of a few hundred young and old, who cross our path way each summer?
Nicole Hastings, the Dartmouth Outing Club coordinator responsible for the maintenance of “our” chunk of the trail says, “We in Norwich offer hikers what we can, as a friend does to another, only what you are able. […] We offer them the pleasure of visiting our little community. And the opportunity to get to know our character as a community, which extends beyond material things.”
“In the long run, in order to sustain the Trail and the community, the culture itself has to be valued and instilled into the belief system of those who call the AT home.”
Julie Jenkins from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy emphasizes that, “In the long run, in order to sustain the Trail and the community, the culture itself has to be valued and instilled into the belief system of those who call the AT home.”
So. just as the journey itself – not the destination – is the main purpose for the hikers, being a proud, aware and involved trail community is of real and greater value to the hikers than any particular service or commodity we might try to offer.
It is in that spirit that Norwich will celebrate our new status as an official “Appalachian Trailside Community” on September 18th with a kid-friendly family hike from Cossingham Road across the AT and down Elm Street to the Green.
(This story first ran in the fall 2011 edition of The Norwich Times)