Tales from an Archival Thru-Hike: Accessioning the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Records

The Appalachian Trail consists of over 2000 miles of continuous footpath from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, and the many mountainous miles in between contain some of the most glorious scenery in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The trail runs through two national parks (Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia) as well as national forests and state parks. The hardy souls who complete the entire trail are known as thru-hikers, and according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, their journeys take somewhere between five and seven months.

You may be asking yourself, “What does thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail have to do with archives?” When the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) acquired over 500 boxes of records documenting the history of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in January 2022, it became my task to figure out how we would go about accessioning the collection. Accessioning, as Director of SCRC Lynn Eaton noted in an earlier blog post, is the process by which we gather preliminary information about a collection and record it in our collections management system (in our case, ArchivesSpace). For a collection as large and important as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy records, it also involves creating a preliminary box level inventory and reboxing the records in acid-free, stable archival quality records boxes.

Accessioning any collection that consists of more than a couple of boxes can take some time. In the case of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy records, it will take a few months to house and inventory the records properly so that the future processing archivist who works on the materials has all of the information that they need to efficiently arrange and describe them. When I began contemplating the magnitude of this process and the box-by-box nature of the work, I realized that thru-hiking the AT one mile at a time is an apt metaphor for accessioning several hundred boxes of records. And so my personal archival thru-hike began!

Any good thru-hiker needs a trail name, a nickname by which their fellow hikers will know them on the journey. To come up with my archival accessioning thru-hike trail name, I consulted my hiking buddies, who are not archivists but happen to be some of the punniest people I know. They dubbed me Ariadne’s Tread, a nod to hiking boots and the character from Greek mythology who helped Theseus navigate the labyrinth with a thread. Not all AT thru-hikers have companions on the many miles of trail they travel, but I’m fortunate that Processing Coordinator Amanda Brent* will be assisting me with accessioning and accompanying me on the journey. You’ll be hearing from Ariadne’s Tread again soon with updates on what I’m finding as I make my way through decades of Appalachian Trail history!

*Thru-hike name: Nogo Baggins (based on her love of The Lord of the Rings books and her lack of love for hiking).

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