Earl Shaffer's Legacy:
Appalachian Trail Volunteer
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As teens Earl, along with his neighbor Walter and younger brother Evan, frequently walked the section of the Appalachian Trail from Caladonia off Route 30 to Dillsburg, PA. Before Walter entered the US Marines and Earl the US Army, they made a pact to walk the entire Appalachian Trail when they returned home. Pearl Harbor and World War II intervened and only one of the two returned home.
The decision to attempt hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in 1948 was not only the challenge of doing something never done before, but also to honor his friend Walter and "walk off the war" as he described his own war trauma. Every year thousands of recent war veterans begin their trek on the Appalachian Trail for the same reason.
Publicity following Earl Shaffer’s 1948 thru-hike increased public awareness of the Appalachian Trail and brought to it many new hikers.
Following his thru-hike, Earl became active in the work the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC), which he had joined prior to his hike. Earl’s contributions as an Appalachian Trail volunteer are recorded in his authorized biography by Donaldson and Forrester, A Grip on the Mane of Life. The following includes excerpts and information from their book.
ATC Corresponding Secretary
“In 1952, at the [Appalachian Trail] Conference’s general meeting Earl was elected Corresponding Secretary, a post in which he served until 1958.” (Page 193)
“Earl’s chief responsibility as Corresponding Secretary was to respond to inquiries sent to ATC requesting information as to what was required to undertake a backpacking trek on the Appalachian Trail. In those days, such inquiries were few, and at first Earl provided personalized responses to each one. Later as the number increased, he prepared a mimeographed sheet of suggestions for hikers which he used to answer such questions.” (Ibid, pages 194-195)
Organizing Pennsylvania for the Appalachian Trail
In Pennsylvania, his home state, Earl promoted the establishment of regional trail associations that could take responsibility for maintaining and improving “their” sections of the Appalachian Trail. He also advocated a state-wide organization to coordinate regional efforts, provide guidance to hikers, and assist in relocating critical sections of the Trail.
The Susquehanna Appalachian Trail Club (SATC)
On the regional level, Earl Shaffer, George Gruber, and Ralph Kinter were key figures in conceiving and establishing the Susquehanna Appalachian Trail Club (SATC) which was officially launched, “… on April 25, 1954, with Ralph Kintner as President, Earl as Vice-President, and Thelma Marks as Secretary/Treasurer.” (ibid. page 200)
Earl became the editor of the new club’s newsletter, the Bushwack Bulletin, which he printed on a second-hand mimeograph machine.
“Earl wound up writing much of the material for the early issues himself—sometimes unsigned and sometimes with the nom de plume ‘Sylvanis.’” (ibid)
The Keystone Trails Association
Other regional Appalachian Trail organizations or clubs formed in Pennsylvania around the same time, joining the Appalachian Trail Conference which, in 2005, changed its name to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. These regional clubs then formed a statewide organization, the Keystone Trails Association (KTC) in 1956. Earl was present at all of the organizational meetings of the KTA.
During the first half of the 1950s, Earl Shaffer played a major role in scouting out and establishing a 70 mile relocation of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania from Center Point Knob to Swatara Gap on the East side of the Susquehanna River. The relocation was necessitated by the original trail’s route within and near the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation which had become a major Army training base during World War II. The relocation also removed a major annoyance with the old route—the need to walk a 10 mile detour to get to a bridge just in order to cross the river. The new, relocated Trail section was dedicated in March, 1955. (ibid, pages 291-203)
Builder of Appalachian Trail Shelters
As Donaldson and Forrester record in Earl’s biography, “Over a span of half a dozen years, Earl was the prime mover in the construction of four shelters, only one of which remains, although no longer in use as a trail shelter.” (ibid, Page 204)
The Susquehanna Lean-to
“At a site a little less than a mile east (trail north) of the Susquehanna River, Earl constructed a basic Adirondack shelter which he named the Susquehanna Lean-to. It no longer exists, having been replaced by the Clarks Ferry Shelter.” (ibid)
“Using native stone, Earl built the first Darlington Shelter in 1956, mostly working alone, with only occasional assistance from other trail club members. The site on Blue Mountain, about a dozen miles trail-south of the Susquehanna River crossing at Clark’s Ferry, was chosen primarily because of its proximity to a spring.” (ibid)
Thelma Marks Shelter
“In 1960 at a site about five miles west of the Susquehanna River, Earl built a shelter which he named the Thelma Marks in honor of a longtime activist with the SATC.” “The Mountain Club of Maryland provided some help in dragging the logs to the construction site. Otherwise, Earl did all of the work himself. This shelter no longer exists.” (ibid, page 205)
Earl Shaffer Shelter
The only remaining shelter built by Earl on Peters Mountain in Pennsylvania was located between Clarks Valley and the Clarks Ferry Bridge. Donaldson and Forrester quote an undated memo regarding the shelter from Earl’s brother, John Shaffer.
“The shelter on Peters Mtn. was built in the manner of the traditional Adirondack Lean-to, small, low, and without a floor, to accommodate four to six persons. This type is easy to build and maintain and adequately fulfills the basic needs of backpackers in bad weather.” (ibid)
After a new and larger shelter was built nearby, the shelter built by Earl gradually deteriorated. In 2008, with the approval of the National Park Service, volunteers from the Appalachian Trail Museum Society carefully disassembled the shelter built by Earl, numbering and noting the location of each log.
Reassembled, the original Earl Shaffer Shelter was a key exhibit when the Appalachian Trail Museum opened in June of 2010. It remains on display there, along with other Earl Shaffer material. The Museum is located adjacent to the Appalachian Trail at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, about 8 miles southwest of Mt. Holly Springs, Pennsylvania.
Induction into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame
In 2011, Earl Shaffer was inducted posthumously into the Appalachian Trail Museum’s Hall of Fame as a member of its first, “Charter Class”. Other Charter inductees were Myron Avery, Gene Espy, Benton MacKaye, and Arthur Perkins.
Earl dedicated many hours to trail maintenance, environmental advocacy, community education, and particularly to inspiring and encouraging would-be hikers of the Appalachian Trail.
Many of these organizations continue to be active today; consider supporting them or your local hiking club in remembrance of Earl's work!