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Hikers enjoy the view from atop Springer Mountain earlier this winter. Situated on the eastern border of Gilmer County, the peak serves as the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Amicalola Falls State Park will be hosting a kickoff event for thru-hiking season on this long distance footpath Friday, March 8, through Sunday, March 10. (Photo by Whitney Crouch)
by Whitney Crouch

Amicalola Falls State Park’s annual backpacking clinic may have undergone a name change but park officials are confident the event will still provide attendees with a wealth of trail-related information. 
Now billed as the 2013 Appalachian Trail Kick Off, it will take place Friday, March 8, through Sunday, March 10, and is designed to celebrate the park’s connection with one of the world’s longest continuously marked footpaths. 
“This new name has generated so much interest,” noted Lauretta Dean, interpretive ranger and event coordinator, adding the new title is especially fitting since the annual gathering coincides with the start of thru-hiker season — the time when numerous individuals come to north Georgia to attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail (AT).

“We’ve had several (hikers) leave already, but usually March is the big time when north bounders head for Katahdin (the trail’s northern terminus in Maine). They’re leaving now and we’re going to send them off with a bang,” Dean remarked.  

Measuring approximately 2,180 miles long, the AT begins atop Springer Mountain on the border of Gilmer and Fannin counties and stretches across 14 states to Maine. While the summit of Springer may be the official southern terminus of the trail, as Dean observed, many hikers who attempt to walk the entire long-distance footpath actually begin their journey at Amicalola Falls, which is home to the start of the approach trail to the AT. 

An educational event for all skill levels
The upcoming AT Kick Off will feature representatives from trail clubs, outfitters, gear specialists and a variety of hikers who have written books about their experiences on the trail. 
“There will be so many authors and professionals and enthusiastic hikers in the same place at the same time. It’s a chance to learn from each other,” Dean stated. “It’s a chance to be entertained and to get hints. You can also learn not only about the AT, but also about the other trails the guest speakers have hiked … you can learn from other people’s past mistakes and find out the latest on what people are using on the trail.” 
She went on to explain that the event is not limited to experienced hikers.
“It’s for the young; it’s for the old. It’s for hikers and nonhikers and for those who are dreamers and who plan to hike the trail some day. It’s even for people like me who enjoy hearing about (the trail) but wouldn’t (hike) it,” she explained. 
Highlights of the weekend include information and demonstrations on constructing alcohol stoves and ultralight gear, fitting a backpack, using everyday backpacking gear in emergency situations, utilizing trekking poles and making survival bracelets and DIY (Dehydrate It Yourself) backpacking food.  Other topics of discussion will include encounters with black bears and how to lighten your load and avoid pack rat tendencies on the trail. 
The event will also include presentations by a variety of successful AT thru-hikers ranging from Appalachian Trail Conservancy representative Joe Conaci, who hiked the trail in 2012, to Gene Espy, who in 1951 became the second person to walk the entire trail. As part of his program, Espy will display some of the gear he used during his historic hike. 
A Virtual Campfire Conference will take place Saturday, March 9, at 7 p.m., in one of the park’s shelters. This laid-back question-and-answer session allows attendees to get answers to their backpacking questions from the various guest speakers for the kickoff event. 
All other events will take place in the park lodge that sits near the top of its namesake 729-foot cascade — Amicalola Falls. 
There is no registration required for this informative event, and interested visitors are invited to drop in for any session they please. All programs are free of charge, although a $5 parking fee does apply. 
For a detailed schedule of programs, on-site camping opportunities and more information, visit or call the park’s programming department at (706) 265-1969. 

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