How New England gave the nation the gift of hiking

Two hundred years ago, New Hampshire innkeeper Abel Crawford had a problem: guests at his White Mountain hotel were clamoring for the chance to summit the iconic Mount Washington. But without an established path, those intrepid enough to try would often get lost or return in tatters, having battled with scree and brush for miles.

So Crawford, and especially his son Ethan Allen Crawford, took up the Herculean task of cutting an 8.2-mile-long trail to the top. They felled trees. They moved boulders. Foot by foot, they lay their path over the steep peak of Mount Pierce, along the wind-swept spines that would later be known as Mounts Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe, and finally, up the formidable southern face of Mount Washington.

Their hotel is long gone, but Crawford Path is the oldest continually maintained trail in the country. It’s also a model for how the national trail system came to be — built and maintained by private individuals who loved the outdoors. The system was given national park status when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails Systems Act of 1968, with the Appalachian (about a third of which runs through New England) named first in the legislation.

The national trails are as varied as America itself. Scenic trails like the Appalachian run for at least 100 miles, and can include challenging hikes like the Crawford Path. Historic trails also run at least 100 miles, and mark key moments in American history.

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