The vision to build a hiking trail through the northern Appalachian Mountains was proposed at a news conference on Earth Day, April 22, 1994, in Portland, Maine, by former Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan and Maine conservationists Dick Anderson, Don Hudson, Cloe Chunn and Dick Davies. It was designed as a project that would give Mainers an opportunity to work with and get to know their Canadian neighbors. The plan was to work with New Brunswick and Quebec to develop a hiking trail that followed the Appalachian Mountains, from Maine’s Katahdin to Mont Carleton in New Brunswick and then on to Mount Jacques Cartier in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsular.
On June 25, 1994, a delegation from Maine met with a group of hiking advocates from Quebec and New Brunswick in New Brunswick’s Mount Carleton Park and decided to move forward with the development of an international trail. Later, after much discussion, it was decided that the name of the trail would be the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). Several more international meetings were held during 1995 and 1996 to further develop the trail plan. During meetings and at social events, held in conjunction with each meeting, the international partners discussed the idea of extending the principle of “Thinking Beyond Borders” to other eastern Canadian Provinces whose landscape included part of the ancient Appalachian Mountains, formed 300 million years ago. The first extension, approved in 1995, was for about 150 miles from Mont Jacques Cartier to Cap Gaspé, at the eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. Discussion of the idea of further expansion continued, and in 2002 the IAT was extended to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Appalachian terrains. Trail sections through the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were added in subsequent years.
In October of 1997, John Brinda became the first person to hike the whole of the IAT (Katahdin to Cap Gaspé at that time) and the first person to hike the entire east coast of the North American continent, in his trek from Key West, Florida to Cap Gaspé, Quebec.Brinda’s feat was repeated in 1998 by legendary long-distance hiker, Eberhart “Nimblewill Nomad”.
Dick Anderson with John Brinda
With roughly 1800 miles of trail located from Maine’s Katahdin to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Crow Head, social hour talk turned to the ancient Appalachian Mountains located on the other side of the Atlantic.
In June 2009, representatives of the IAT were invited by Hugh Barron of the British Geological Survey in Scotland to come to the British Isles to explore interest in extending the IAT to the Appalachian terrains of Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The visiting delegation was made up of six members of Maine’s IAT chapter board of directors and four members from the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter. This group met with public officials and hikers and made several public presentations throughout the British Isles that generated a great deal of interest.
In April 2010, after visits by IAT Maine’s Will Richard, Greenland became the first IAT chapter outside of North America. This was followed in June by Scotland, when the West Highland Way was welcomed into the IAT at the Grand Opening of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove State Park, Pennsylvania.
In October 2010, at an IAT Europe meeting in Aviemore, Scotland during the Adventure Travel Trade Association World Summit, IAT Council Chairperson Paul Wylezol (Newfoundland/Labrador) welcomed seven new European chapters to the IAT, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and Wales.
In March 2011, after a visit to Maine by Spanish geologist Ruth Hernandez, the Maine chapter sent a three-person delegation (Don Hudson, Bob Marvinney, and Thomas Urquhart) to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco to explore the interest in forming IAT chapters in those countries. That visit resulted in a chapter being formed in Spain and a good deal of interest being generated in the other countries.
In September 2011, in the wake of visits by IAT Council Vice-Chair, Eric Chouinard (Quebec), France joined the IAT when representatives of the 200,000 plus member French Rambling Association attended the IAT Annual General Meeting in Gaspésie National Park, Quebec. During the AGM, Magne Haugseng was elected the first IAT Europe Vice-Chair, and Hugh Baron was elected first IAT Europe Geologist. In October, the IAT became the first member of the European Ramblers’ Association from the Western Hemisphere.
At the end of 2011 there were IAT chapters in the following jurisdictions: Maine, United States; New Brunswick, Canada; Quebec, Canada; Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada; Nova Scotia, Canada; Prince Edward Island, Canada; Greenland; Scotland; Ireland; Wales, England; Netherlands; Denmark (Faroe Islands); Sweden; Norway; Iceland; Spain; France.
At this time, the IAT continues to expand into new areas of Appalachian terrains, always based on the original premise that the trail will eventually connect all of those mountains that were created when the ancient continent Pangaea was formed 300 million years ago.
The Maine section of the IAT/SIA is 138.4 miles (223kms) long. Heading north from the trail head parking near mile 12 on the Katahdin Loop Road, the route passes through boreal forests and follows trails, old logging roads, an abandoned railroad bed, and rural public roads to the potato fields of Aroostook County. Beyond Fort Fairfield, the trail enters New Brunswick.