On 5 June 2010, the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) officially welcomed Scotland and the West Highland Way (WHW) as the first European Chapter of the IAT; a year after the British Geological Survey (BGS) invited an IAT delegation from Maine and Newfoundland to visit Scotland.
This visit was the first step in fulfilling a vision to extend the existing 1350 miles of IAT trails in the US and Canada with trails in Greenland, Scotland and other countries on the western seaboard of Europe and on through to Morocco; countries or regions that were all once part of the ancient Caledonian–Appalachian Mountain chain.
Hugh Barron, BGS, said:
'As well as our cultural links, Scotland shares an older geological heritage with this region. We have been close neighbours on ancient continents, shared in the building of the Caledonian– Appalachian mountain chain, and only (geologically) recently separated by the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean.'
'The opening of the Atlantic Ocean separated the Appalachians from Scotland, but we are in the process of restoring these ancient links by celebrating our common geological heritage through long-distance walking routes.
The West Highland Way is only the beginning in Scotland — we now have interest from representatives of the Ayrshire Coastal Path and the Cape Wrath Trail in joining the network, which could provide valuable tourism interest from the North American market.
The Scottish geoparks, North West Highlands, Lochaber and Shetland are also keen to be linked by IAT routes, as are geoparks in Wales.'
Gordon Forrester, Manager of the West Highland Way said:
'The West Highland Way is very proud to be the first European member of the IAT. We aim to build on shared cultural heritage and our love of the great outdoors. If we can work together to increase interest and inspire even more people to rekindle their connections with the countryside it will have a positive impact on everybody’s quality of life.'
Paul Wylezol, IAT President, commented:
'We are very excited to have the West Highland Way on board and would love to see other Scottish trails such as the Ayrshire Coastal Path link-up with the renowned Appalachian Trail brand to provide opportunities for friendly ties between Scotland and North America and help renew and expand cultural links.
IAT trails help expand local adventure tourism industries, and in particular to create employment and business opportunities in rural areas, including accommodation, transportation, guiding and interpretation, and retail sales, including local arts and crafts.'
'The long-term goal of the IAT is to locate sections of the IAT in all the countries or regions that were once part of the ancient Caledonian–Appalachian Mountain range, from East Greenland to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Norway, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Trails already exist along much of the conceptual route, planners point out, so participating countries in many cases can mark certain trail segments with the IAT sign to make it part of the network.'
The existing IAT stretches from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin in the US state of Maine to the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland/ Labrador. It connects two countries, five provinces, one state, and the English, French and Celtic cultures of North America.
The welcome took place on 5 June 2010 at the opening of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pennsylvania. Joining IAT President Paul Wylezol in welcoming Scotland and the WHW were Appalachian Trail Conservancy Executive Director Dave Startzell, Pennsylvania Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources John Quigley, AT Museum officials and other local officials.
Contact Hugh Barron for further information.