Will Pipelines Destroy Our Thru-Hikes?
In Virginia, where the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is crossed by more black bears and wild boars than humans, where the trail runs through hardwood forest, dark rhododendron thickets, and mountain laurel tunnels, long-distance hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis soaked her feet in a cold creek before traveling beside Burke’s Garden, aka God’s Thumbprint. “Out of the 14 states that the Appalachian Trail travels through, as a hiker, Virginia is my favorite,” says Pharr Davis, who held the speed record on the trail six years ago.
But the remote stretch of trail that Pharr Davis loves could soon change irreparably. Pennsylvania oil and gas company Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC is attempting to build a 300-mile, 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline—the largest ever proposed for the 2,190-mile trail. It would run from shale reserves in the Appalachian Basin southbound through the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Virginia and then east into connecting pipelines in North Carolina.
For West Virginia and Virginia governors Jim Justice and Terry McAuliffe, the $3.5-billion proposal represents a cheaper energy alternative to coal, plus jobs for their constituents. But for the thousands of people who hike and thru-hike the AT each year, including Pharr Davis and Ron Tipton, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the pipeline means a significant disruption to one of the country’s most pristine avenues for engaging with nature.
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