Posted by Jean Clarke
It was 2016 and my daughter, Mikayla aka Brightside, was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. As a thru-hiker mom, I had visited her in places like Hot Springs, North Carolina and Vernon, New Jersey. But, after five months, she was finally in New Hampshire and I was thrilled to be a drive away instead of a flight away.
So there I was on a beautiful August day, sitting in a beach chair reading a book at the Rattle River trailhead parking lot off Route 2 in Shelburne, NH. Trucks were flying by and it was easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. This is what thru-hiker moms do a lot of …. wait around, read books, chat with locals, check the weather, search for cell phone service. While I was there, I met a handful of thru-hikers – “Mary Poppins”; “Grey Beard”; “Granola” – but no one had seen or heard of “Brightside.” About a chapter into my book, my phone buzzed – and it was Brightside – “I’m in town.” “Okay, be there in 5,” I responded.
I drove back to Gorham and, sure enough, there she was at the ice cream stand right on the main drag that runs through town. She had another ice cream while I decided on my flavor. “How did you get here?” I questioned. “Oh, I got a ride with Paul from The Libby House Inn. That’s where I’m staying tonight and then he’ll give me and a bunch of other hikers a ride back.”
Ask any thru-hiker “What makes a great trail town? And you’ll get lots of different replies, but here are the basics:
- Access – free rides from friendly business owners, trail angels, tourists and locals.
- Wifi – Coffee shops or restaurants with free wifi and generous mugs of coffee.
- Buffets – all-you-can-eat and then some for hungry hikers who’ve been living on freeze dried and oatmeal.
- Services – Laundromats, a post office, stores for resupply options.
- Accommodations: Hostels and overnight lodging for folks on a budget. A roof, hot running water, and a bed mean a lot when you’ve been living in a tent.
The town of Gorham does all that and so much more!
Most recently, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy named Gorham an Appalachian Trail Community. This official designation means that it’s recognized as a community that promotes and protects the Appalachian Trail. Gorham, together with Hanover, are the only NH towns listed as AT Communities. What does it take to become an AT Community? It takes volunteers, businesses owners and town officials working together to agree upon a plan and complete the paperwork. It’s a lengthy process, but each community hopes that the pay-off will bring in, not only thru-hikers, but those who support them and the dollars spent at hotels, restaurants, bars and convenience stores. This summer Gorham plans to hang a banner welcoming thru-hikers and an interactive map and kiosk will introduce visitors to services available throughout town. Check out the ATC’s website for more information about Gorham and other trail communities.
Fun Fact: In 1998 Governor Chris Sununu completed a thru-hike of the AT from Maine to Georgia. When it was time to submit Gorham’s AT Community application, Gov. Sununu enthusiastically lent his support. Hey, you never know who will be hiking down the trail. Our next President could be starting her thru-hike today.