Master of Environmental Studies Capstone Projects

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

May 2007


Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Environmental Studies 2007.


This is a paper about preserving the unique experience of a hike on the Appalachian Trail as we hike into a crowded 21st century. Its title derives from a popular backpacking mantra, one I heard nearly every day on my 2006 thru-hike: "Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH)."

How can you HYOH when there are simply so many others hiking it with you? Or when you're sharing a campsite with 50 other people? How can you HYOH on a trail so badly eroded that it's three full feet below the lay of the land? When the trailside is so full of invasive plants they form a two-mile corridor of monoculture?

These questions and others led me to the feeling that I wasn't hiking the hike intended by Benton MacKaye when he first envisioned a long trail up the east coast. In 1921, MacKaye, a land-use planner, dreamed of a wilderness trail that would provide disillusioned city-dwellers with a little rejuvenation. For the most part, the AT still achieves this, but occasionally it falls short. Invasive species threaten the integrity of the forest ecosystem, development along the trail wipes out natural settings, and pollution produces hazy, steamed-glass views from the southern mountains. It is absolutely not my intention to de-emphasize these larger-scale problems, which can all damage the wilderness value of a hike on the AT (not to mention the value of the ecosystem in general), though they fall outside the scope of this paper.



Date Posted: 24 July 2007