Don Shedd's Contribution to the Protection of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail

By Edith Shedd

Don Shedd's dedication to the Appalachian Trail began as a Boy Scout in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, intensified with the Dartmouth Outing Club, grew as he introduced our family and Girls Scouts to the joys of trekking and culminated as a staff member of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in the U.S. Department of the Interior in the 1960s.  

As a couple with a growing family, the outdoors appealed to us. Our enjoyment awakened a strong sense of stewardship for our Earth. We became active with many conservation organizations. As we enjoyed camping and hiking and taught these skills to others, we became aware of the relationship between the consumers and producers of food, clothing and shelter for this special clientele.

Edith and Don Shedd at Betty’s Creek Gap

Edith and Don Shedd at Betty’s Creek Gap

Another link was the growing development of support facilities near the Trail. Originally much of the Trail traversed private property. Tacit agreements, as simple as a handshake, brought together the interests of landowners and Trail hikers. Conflicts arose in some areas. Trail clubs and volunteer maintenance crews added to the need for cooperation. Even in the turbulent times of the 1950s and 60s there was a growing demand for outdoor recreation.

President Lyndon Johnson recognized the need for protection from the overuse and abuse of our rivers, seashores, National Parks, National Forests and Trails. Public agencies were charged with the task of conducting a study of the natural resources. A result of this study was the formation in 1963 of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Having followed the progression of the national trends and studying the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, Don decided to apply. The BOR staff was made up of long term feds. Don was an "outsider". Based on a decision that someone acquainted with the private sector of recreation and environmental interests might be of assistance, Don was hired as a Recreation Resource Specialist. Contacts nurtured over the years came into play, as Don attended countless national meetings and talked with people he had known, becoming the advocate and liaison with the BOR. For a time, he was assigned to the BOR's public relations office in DC, where he helped promote the original Golden Eagle Passport.

He soon began working with the 10,000 Island study, the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Wild and Scenic Rivers and more. When Humble Oil and Refining Co. underwrote the creation of a promotional video, “Wild Rivers” on the wild and scenic rivers, Don worked with the crew of writers and photographers, scouting locations and bringing me and our four kids to appear as campers enjoying the rivers. The movie premiere was released in June 1965 at the annual meeting of the Outdoor Writers' Association of America in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This was a gala occasion for all of us as a family - we were part of something big and meaningful.

Shedd Wild Rivers PressKit.jpg
Shedd Wild Rivers Studies.jpg

Gradually Don's assignment focused almost entirely on the Appalachian Trail portion of the Nationwide System of trails study. He was to make contacts with AT leaders. On one occasion he met with Stan Murray, Chairman of the ATC. Murray, with his years of trail maintenance work and shelter design, recognized the need for partnership among landowners and the hikers who trekked across their property. Continuing this trip, Don was to meet with Ed Garvey, a thru-hiker, who championed the wonders of the Trail, but also recognized what he called its "precariousness". The meeting was to be held at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Madison Spring Hut, one of a string of facilities which provide supper, breakfast and lodging for hikers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Don was driven to the trailhead of the Madison Spring Hut. He was told, "Supper's at 6:00. Don't be late". As he shouldered his pack and grasped his walking stick, he said he thought of us, his family, hundreds of miles away. Off he went up the mountain, arriving in time for supper and his information gathering meeting with Ed Garvey. When word of this trek filtered through the BOR, one of Don's colleagues remarked, "No one else in the Bureau could have done it."

He flew the Trail in federal, state or privately owned small craft, swooping low taking clear aerial shots of remote areas. Gathering Trail and topographic maps, his photos, plus more supplied from many sources, Don spread out a comprehensive look at the 2000-mile Trail. Our adult children reminisce about crawling around on the living room floor learning from Don the relationships among these visual images and information they revealed. All of the information gathered by Don and others was to support the creation of a bill for protecting the AT and other trails called the Nationwide System of Trails legislation.

Gaylord Nelson, Senator from Wisconsin, called the father of Earth Day, supported countless bills leading to laws for the protection of environmental resources. A highlight for Don was testifying before Senator Nelson's Committee. Don participated in formulating the wording of the bill with the focus on protecting the Trail's corridor. He and I struggled to synthesize concepts into workable reality. Overjoyed, we found a few of our words in the finished bill.

On October 2, 1968 the bill was passed into Law 90-543 with the Appalachian Trail named as the first Nationwide Trail. Legislation has continued over the years. Much of today's emphasis is placed on protecting the vistas adjacent to the Trail. Eventually Don left the Bureau, but throughout his life he kept up with the work on the AT and helped support the efforts of thousands of men, women and youth who protect this beloved, fragile footpath that stretches for 2000 miles across the enduring Appalachian Mountains.

When Don stopped driving, our son sold his car for him. Don's one request was, "Save my AT license plate." Memory of Don's work lives on in our hearts and on his brick placed in the ATC's Tribute Garden at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.

Shedd AT License Plate.jpg