On Saturday, August 12 we had a full day of Shaffer events. Dozens of Shaffers from Pennsylvania and around the country came to pay tribute to their distinguished forebear. They spun stories about Earl and caught up with long separated relatives. In the afternoon we filled the Furnace Stack Picnic Pavilion as speaker after speaker talked about Earl, his place in hiking history and much more with MCs Dan Shaffer, Earl’s nephew, and Sanne Bagby, president of the Earl Shaffer Foundation. Author Andrea Shapiro read her new children’s book on Earl’s hike: Two Thousand Miles to Happy. Silas Chamberlin of York, as was Earl, talked about the history of hiking in the U.S. Also present was Luke Kolbie, CEO of the Russell Moccasin Company, maker of the Birdshooter boots that Earl wore on his historic hike.
Later, we climbed the hill to hear stories from Karen Balaban and Larry Knutson, who spearheaded the original Darlington Shelter project. Finally, after Odie led some hiker cheers, we had a duct tape cutting to inaugurate the beautiful shelter on its new site right outside the Museum. Still not a finished project, the hard part is done. The stones are in place and next year we’ll add a roof, barrier in front and interpretive materials. Appropriately, after the shelter dedication, we had a talk on rocks on the A.T. by author Craig Eckert, a career geologist about his book Rocks, Roots and Rattlesnakes. Craig is in the early stages of helping us prepare an exhibit on A.T. geology. Other than food, nothing is more important to A.T. hikers than rocks.
The Museum’s next publishing venture is a big departure for us but since the A.T. Museum is the only full-fledged hiking museum in the country we have no prior trails to follow. A.T. legend Odie has decided to turn over the Hiker Yearbook to the Museum. Starting this year, the Museum will work with Odie to continue the project. With his passionate involvement in the A.T. community and trademark yellow school bus, Odie established a tradition of hikers submitting their photos for a classic but unusual yearbook. Each year close to 1,000 hikers purchase a copy. The yearbook comes out each spring.
What would a hiking museum be without hikers? Only a few backpackers have done more than 50,000 miles. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of thru-hiking the A.T. 25 times. The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association has established the Billy Goat Award for those who have backpacked more than 25,000 miles, in and of itself a highly select group.
We are aware of fewer than a dozen living hikers who have backpacked more than 50,000 miles. The earliest to reach that milestone was Peace Pilgrim, who hiked the A.T. in 1952 and from then until her death in 1981 crossed the U.S. and Canada continuously on foot. She stopped counting at 25,000 miles but we estimate that she hiked between 50,000 and 75,000 miles in her efforts to promote world peace. At the Museum in September and October, we hosted at least five hikers who have topped 50,000 miles. Besides Billy Goat and Nimblewill, they are Warren Doyle, a 2020 inductee; Bart Smith, photographer extraordinaire and first person to hike all the National Scenic and Historic Trails; and Catherine Stratton, who spoke Oct. 14 at the hostel about her 50 years of hiking all over the world.
Besides these distinguished hikers we honored our own Nan Reisinger, longtime A.T. Museum volunteer, who became the oldest woman to complete the trail in a year and started and ended her epic journey at the Museum. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, we honored Museum Treasurer Jay Sexton with the Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Jay has brought professionalism and passion to his work for the Museum over several decades. His late wife, Katie, was one of the Museum’s most enthusiastic volunteers and along with Jay introduced many young people to backpacking and hiking. Katie is remembered with a tree planted close to the Museum. We are extending that tradition with plans to honor other members of the Museum family. Our new chief gardener, Ann Bodling, is involved in that effort along with Judy Bennett.
No account of the Museum’s involvement with extraordinary hikers can omit Heather “Anish” Anderson. We have had an exhibit on Anish for several years and she has graced the Museum with several inspirational talks. Anish kicked off our year with a talk at Gettysburg College, co-sponsored by the college’s Garthwait Leadership Center. Anish talked about the life lessons she’s taken from hiking before a more than capacity crowd of 150 people. Anish was introduced by longtime Museum volunteer Ed Riggs, who also writes a hiking column for the Gettysburg Times, one of the few hiking columns anywhere. Other speakers this year included Prof. Mills Kelly of George Mason University on his new book Virginia’s Lost Appalachian Trail; Harvey Dennenberg, author of Maine’s Appalachian Trail: How Senior Made Section Hiking Easier; Anne Van Curen, portraying Grandma Gatewood; Geologist Craig Eckert; Backpacker Catherine Stratton; and in mid-November, Professor Kip (Hippy Kippy) Redick of Christopher Newport University, author of the new book, American Camino. Adding to the Museum’s small miracles for the year are the significant progress on oral history, an area we have struggled with for decades. Volunteers Greg Cook and Jessica Strother have launched a project called “Tell Us Your Story.” Hikers are asked to record a five-minute story of their A.T. hiking and already several stories are uploaded on the Museum website. Two women, Karen and Shannon, with a YouTube channel, Wandering Out Yonder, filmed many events at the A.T. Museum this year and brought a significant amount of talent, dedication and professionalism to the task. The channel features their many adventures but we are partial to their A.T. work.
We continue to work on the A.T. 3D Map as we attempt to fill out the five monitors devoted to different parts of the A.T. We also installed a beautiful overhead bonnet covering our laser equipment. This remains one of our most popular exhibits On another part of the top floor, in early spring hiker and artist Monica Aguilar of Chasing Trails Art painted some beautiful murals of plants, animals and birds in our gift shop area. We hope to build on these murals in coming years. We also added a new feature in the children’s museum with three children’s silhouettes on the wall while they make comments about their hike as Museum Vice President Gwen Loose and Greg Snell of Graphik Masters continue their extraordinary collaboration on the Museum exhibits. Longtime board member Karen Lutz stepped down in early summer after a legendary career of service to the Museum and the A.T. community. Fortunately for us, Karen remains involved and is helping with a new exhibit. Membership Secretary Robert “Red Wolf o’ da Smoky’s” Croyle has spearheaded our many successful fundraising campaigns and kept supporters updated with his wide-ranging electronic newsletters. Through his efforts, the Museum now has more than 900 members and more than 700,000 visitors to our Whiteblaze.net thread.
Early in the year we received an email from a 2022 hiker named Cricket. It was a heartwarming message and it was the kind of thing that separates our small hiking Museum from its 10,000 museum counterparts. Cricket was on the verge of quitting her thru-hike at the midpoint when she received some trail magic from Museum Volunteer Jennifer Boag. With Cricket Injured, homesick and discouraged, Jennifer lifted Cricket’s spirits with trail magic and encouragement. Cricket went on to complete the trail and told us: ”A Year after setting off, I still feel immense gratitude for my life that the trail revealed for me. Through challenges and doubt that I could keep walking over the next mountain, I learned the lesson that tomorrow is a new day.”
The Museum has a diverse group of talented volunteers but what makes the enterprise thrive is our two managers, Julie Queen and Missy Shank. Missy is completing her fourth year as hostel keeper at Ironmasters Hostel. She began in January 2020, a month before the global Covid pandemic was declared, certainly an inauspicious time to enter the hospitality industry. Missy has enhanced the hostel’s reputation among the trail community and established a welcoming atmosphere. Julie brought years of A.T. involvement to the Museum manager’s position in 2021. She has broadened the Museum’s outreach to the trail community and fostered a close-knit group of engaged volunteers. The Museum manager deals with an extraordinary variety of demands and Julie has handled these tasks with grace and aplomb as well as establishing relationships with new partners and sponsors.
The Museum is fortunate to have both leaders as well as our many dedicated volunteers and supporters. We thank our many volunteers and our supporters throughout the trail community and we look forward to another great year in 2024. For those in a position to support the Museum’s continued growth and operations, we appreciate any financial contributions. To contribute, please follow the instructions that appear below. All contributions through December 31, 2026, are added together to give one donor their final plaque listing level. Your support makes the Museum the success we all enjoy!
Larry Luxenberg Museum President
- Julie Queen, Museum Manager, 717-486-8126, email@example.com
- Missy Shank, Ironmasters Manager, 717-486-4108, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Robert “Red Wolf o’da Smoky’s” Croyle, Museum Membership Secretary
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