Tangled Roots

The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics

Sarah Mittlefehldt
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: 2013. Paperback 2014
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 300 pp., 37 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

The Appalachian Trail, a thin ribbon of wilderness running through the densely populated eastern United States, offers a refuge from modern society and a place apart from human ideas and institutions. But as environmental historian-and thru-hiker-Sarah Mittlefehldt argues, the trail is also a conduit for community engagement and a model for public-private cooperation and environmental stewardship.

In Tangled Roots, Mittlefehldt tells the story of the trail's creation. The project was one of the first in which the National Park Service attempted to create public wilderness space within heavily populated, privately owned lands. Originally a regional grassroots endeavor, under federal leadership the trail project retained unprecedented levels of community involvement. As citizen volunteers came together and entered into conversation with the National Parks Service, boundaries between "local" and "nonlocal," "public" and "private," "amateur" and "expert" frequently broke down. Today, as Mittlefehldt tells us, the Appalachian Trail remains an unusual hybrid of public and private efforts and an inspiring success story of environmental protection.

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Sarah Mittlefehldt is assistant professor of environmental studies at Green Mountain College.

"What a wonderful book! Beautifully written and brilliantly argued, Tangled Roots reveals the hidden-and ultimately hopeful-history of the Appalachian Trail."
-Nancy Langston, Great Lakes Research Center, Michigan Technological University

"Tangled Roots makes a contribution to the literature of environmental conservation history that is as unusual as the trail itself. In a gentle, approachable, and engaging style it tells the history of one of the most important and beloved conservation initiatives in American history and at the same time comments on a wide range of subjects in ways that are both insightful and fresh."
-James Feldman, author of A Storied Wilderness

"Tangled Roots will find readership among environmental and forest historians and will end up on the Christmas lists and in the backpacks of the trail's many fans. It is original and well-researched, ranging the length of the trail and lingering in one or another spot to explore representative or illuminating developments."
-Kathryn Newfont, author of Blue Ridge Commons

"This superb history of the construction and management of the Appalachian Trail not only narrates the creation of the most famous long-distance hiking trail in modern America; it also offers a cautionary tale about the changing roles of private landowners, volunteer hiking enthusiasts, land managers, and federal agencies in the oversight of that trail. In so doing, Sarah Mittlefehldt beautifully illustrates the changing environmental politics of the twentieth century in a book whose implications extend far beyond the AT."
-William Cronon

Foreword by William Cronon

The Tortuous Path toward
Public-Private Partnership

1. A Progressive Footpath
2. The Path of Least Resistance
3. Federalizing America's Foot Trails
4. Fallout from Federalization
5. Acquiring the Corridor
6. The Appalachian Trail and the Rise of the New Right

Hiking through History
Selected Bibliography

"Mittlefehldt adds insights from the contemporary environmental movement to her interpretation of the history of the Appalachian Trail.... Recommended."

"In this compelling history of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Sarah Mittlefehldt emphasizes community engagement, public-private cooperation, and environmental stewardship...politicians and citizens should read this excellent book to learn about the importance of grass-roots environmentalism combined with federal action. In fact, it will make for fine reading along the trail."
-Aaron Shapiro, North Carolina Historical Review

"Deftly avoiding the traps of both "top-down" and "bottom-up" history, Sarah Mittlefehldt's study of the decades-long struggle to create the Appalachian Trail explores the intersection of private activism with public policy at local, regional, and national levels...a welcome addition to the history of U.S. environmental policy and politics."
-Sarah T. Phillips, American Historical Review

"Essential reading for anyone seeking to create public designation for hiking or biking trails, or waterways... the book [also] offers a primer on US environmental politics from Progressive Era conservation to 1960s environmentalism and to conservative backlash in the 1980s. It would work for an environmental studies or environmental history or environmental policy class that hopes to decipher these politics."
-Margaret L. Brown, Environmental History

"Tangled Roots makes a valuable and welcome contribution to the history of American environmental politics."
-Cody Ferguson, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Mittlefehldt's work not only increases our understanding of the history of an important and iconic conservation project, but also, in Mittlefehldt's words, it helps us 'view the possible steps forward for protecting the places that we live and love.'"
-Dan Pierce, Journal of Southern History