Starting Sunday, Appalachian Trail purists can add 334 miles and another month of hiking to their conquest if they desire. Alabama trail builders completed the Pinhoti Trail, which begins at the top of Cheaha Mountain, the state's highpoint, and winds though the Talladega National Forest until it crosses into Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest and connects with the official start of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, GA.
The Pinhoti Trail also leads south through Alabama, and will eventually be completed to Flagg Mountain, the southernmost peak in the Appalachian chain. Though the addition of the trail doesn't change the official start of the AT, supporters of the Pinhoti Trail hope to lobby for its official recognition as part of the nation's most popular thru-hike. Marketing director of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and hiker Tom Cosby had these strong sentiments, published in the Birmingham News:
"This puts Alabama on the map as a mountain hiking destination," Cosby said. "For those hardy souls who want to hike the length of the Appalachians, you really ought to start in Alabama."
It would take an act of Congress to officially connect the Pinhoti to the Appalachian, but it's happened before: In the 1930s, a Senator from Maine extended the AT to Mt. Katahdin. Time will only tell if Alabamans can accomplish the same, but it would seem to fulfill the wishes of trail founder Benton Mackaye, who envisioned "extensions proposed to Katahdin in Maine, in the north and, in the south, to Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and then to Birmingham, Alabama." — Ted Alvarez