Appalachian Trail by County: A river, a foot bridge and Happy Feet

Bill and Laurie took the plural form of their last name “Foot” as their trail name when they through hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1987. Known as Happy Feet, the couple says the hike was life-changing and inspired them to give back to the AT.

“We became trail maintainers, we served on the board of directors for our local club and we lead hikes and chaired committees,” Laurie said. “We had great fun and made great friends doing all of that.”

But Bill wanted to do more. He loved bridges. The couple would stop at every bridge the couple crossed during their hikes. Bill would pace off the bridge, examine the engineering and fall into a bridge daydream. Bill knew there was one bridge that needed work.

Back in the day, the AT crossed the James River using the narrow 501 highway bridge. “It was dangerous,” Laurie said. “It was also not keeping with the wilderness experience because you had just come out of the James River face wilderness and all of a sudden you’re on this highway bridge with a hydro electric plant in front of you.”

In 1991, Bill proposed the local trail club build a more than 600-foot hiking bridge over the James River. Bill had to get a lot of agencies on board – including the state, the federal government and the county. Bill had also never written a grant before. The fourth time was the charm in this case. After three grants were denied, he was finally able to get the funding.

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