By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012
Issue: June, 1984
Years ago I came across a metal marker nailed to a tree in Busted Rock. It was barely readable, but close inspection revealed it to be a marker for the Appalachian Trail. Through the rust and in spite of a bullet hole, the words, "Appalachian Trail Maine To Georgia," could be read. I questioned Mr. Will Barnard, an elderly friend, about the sign and he informed me that the AT once came through here. As a matter of fact, at one time he helped to maintain the trail through this area. However, the Trail had been relocated far to the west many years before so that it would be on federally owned rather than private lands. In the years that followed, I pointed out the Trail marker to only those people I felt would not disturb it. For some reason, it seemed to represent something of tremendous importance to our area and I felt it should remain where it was rather than become a souvenir over someone's mantle.
Over the years the Trail entered my thoughts quite often and I wondered why was it located here and under whose guidance this route was chosen. It was one of those things that pass through your mind yet never strong enough to compel researching. That changed for me awhile back when Woody Dalton loaded me into his pickup truck and took me to see "the arrowhead" near Mayberry. We parked in front of the home of the late John Barnard on state road 614 and walked a hundred yards or so up the old roadway and there was an arrowhead made of concrete that stands about five feet tall. Pressed into the concrete is a wide variety of samples of native stone. A cool clear mountain spring is located just behind the arrowhead and along with rock samples, there is a metal Appalachian Trail marker pointing the way for hikers that are no more.
Thus began my search into one of the most fascinating and rewarding topics I've ever encountered. First I contacted Derral Jones of the Virginia Division of Parks and Recreation who forwarded my request for an old map showing the route of the Trail through this area to Mrs. Ruth Blackburn, of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter a map arrived in the morning mail from Mrs. Blackburn that I will always treasure. It was taken from the book, "The 1934 Guide To Paths In The Blue Ridge", and the map was prepared by Mr. David Dick of Roanoke, Virginia. The book was issued by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. This map was prepared before the Blue Ridge Parkway was built and shows locations of many long forgotten points of interest throughout southwestern Virginia.
Mrs. Blackburn, who became a Trail Club member in 1940, told me of a man, Mr. Earl Shaffer, who was the first person to hike the entire trail in one trip. Mrs. Blackburn relayed my interest to David Sherman of the National Park Service who sent me a copy of Mr. Shaffer's book, WALKING WITH SPRING. All my life I've been an avid reader, but rarely does a book capture my attention strong enough to compel me to read it more than once, however, Mr. Shaffer's book is a thoroughly fascinating exception.
On April 4, 1948, Mr. Shaffer started from Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia on his 2050 mile journey. On August 5, 1948, he arrived at Mt. Katahdin in Maine, a total of four months and four hours after his trek began. Along the way he faced and endured adverse weather conditions and near physical exhaustion. Through it all a love for and dedication to the Trail concept was nurtured and has grown into a lifelong effort. An effort to perpetuate the dream of Benton MacKay who first envisioned an Appalachian footpath where those who long for escape from cities and highways can find nature's peace, on a trail through yesterday.
WALKING WITH SPRING by Earl V. Shaffer is one of the best books I have ever read. It tells of a time that will, sadly, be no more and of a man whose dream became reality. After reaching Mt. Katahdin he said, "Already it seemed like a vivid dream, through sunshine, shadow and rain...Already I knew that many times I would be back again...On the cloud-high hills where the whole world lies below and far away...By the windworn cairn where admiring eyes first welcome newborn day...To walk once more where the white clouds sail, far away from city clutter...And drink a toast to the Long High Trail in clear cold mountain water..."
Normally we do not dedicate articles in The Mountain Laurel to individuals or groups, but over the next few months we plan to make an exception. The following excerpt from Mr. Shaffer's book will be the beginning of a series of monthly articles about the Appalachian Trail, the Pinnacles of Dan and the Dan River Gorge, which has been referred to as, "the Grand Canyon of the East." This entire series we would like to dedicate to Benton MacKay, who first envisioned the Appalachian Trail, to Myron Avery and those first dreamers who worked to make the trail a reality, including S.L. Cole of Floyd, Virginia and John R. Barnard of Meadows of Dan who both provided invaluable assistance, to the countless other "Trail People" and especially Earl V. Shaffer who not only was the first to walk its entire length, but who recorded the experience for each of us to share. Their contributions of time and effort and their love of nature's beauty will forever be memorialized by each hiker's footstep and each gasp at the beauty along the Appalachian Trail.
An excerpt from the book, WALKING WITH SPRING is in this issue. It is with honor and appreciation that we share this story with our readers. Our heartfelt thanks to Mr. Earl V. Shaffer.