Franklin hosts hiker celebrations
The Town of Franklin kicked off its first festivities of the year last weekend by celebrating the Appalachian Trail and the thruhikers now passing through Franklin on their northbound trek to Maine. To open the weekend’s celebrations, a special ceremony was held at Town Hall Friday recognizing the AT’s positive impact on Franklin, as well as the individuals involved with the trail.
“Hikers are great,” said Franklin Mayor Joe Collins to more than 40 people at the ceremony. “When they come into town, it’s like a car on empty. They are needing things.”
Collins noted that many hikers return to Franklin, often with their families, remembering the positive experience they had while on their trail adventure. “We are so much appreciative of all that happens along the trail and how Franklin can be a part of it,” he said, describing Franklin’s relationship with wayfaring travellers as a “perfect fit.”
Award given to local for AT services
At the ceremony, county commissioner and local hotelier Ron Haven was awarded for his service to both AT hikers and the town. Over the years Haven has developed a reputation as being a friend to hikers, by shuttling them into town, where they can restock on equipment for their travels ahead, as well as providing them with discounted rooms at the various motels he operates throughout Franklin.
“Ronnie Haven has been an avid supporter of thru-hikers for over nine years,” said Nanthala Hiking Club member Bill Van Horn, upon presenting Haven the Partner of the Year award. Van Horn recognized Haven for providing information about Franklin to Appalachian Trail guidebooks and websites, offering shuttle services to hikers, and helping them find work while recovering from injuries so that they can continue their hikes.
“We support what you do for Franklin and for the hikers,” said Van Horn as he presented the award to Haven, on behalf of the five southern AT maintaining clubs, which maintain 463 miles of the trail every year. Haven’s award marked his individual impact on the trail and hiking population.
“This is going to look good in the motels, eh?” Haven said, upon receiving his award. He thanked all in attendance and the elected officials present for their support. “Hikers bring a lot of economic impact to our town, and I want them to know every day when I bring them in that we appreciate that.”
Record-holding hikers speak to locals
Following the award ceremony, a presentation was given by special guest speakers Jennifer Pharr-Davis and Warren Doyle. Both Davis and Doyle are highly respected trail hikers, who have achieved national renown for record breaking feats along the 2,175 mile-long trail. This was Pharr Davis’ second year as a guest speaker at the Trail Days festival.
Davis holds endurance records on three long distance trails. In 2008, she became the fastest woman to hike the AT by completing it in 57 days. She has hiked more than 9,000 miles of trails in North America, including the Pacific Crest Trail, Vermont’s Long Trail and The Colorado Trail. She has completed two thru-hikes of the Appalachian Trail and has also hiked and travelled on six continents.
Doyle has been a hiker for more than 37 years, travelling the AT 16 times throughout his career. During that time, he has organized eight groups of people to hike the trail with him. Seven out of the eight groups had a 100 percent completion rate. “Normally, we’re lucky if we get a 15 percent completion rate,” remarked Van Horn.
“We are so much appreciative of all that happens along the trail and how Franklin can be a part of it” – Joe Collins, Franklin Mayor
Among other accolades, Doyle is the first coordinator and honorary life member of the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association. He created and is the director of the Appalachian Trail Institute, which has helped hikers for more than 20 years in hiking the AT successfully, by educating them about life on the trail.
The two speakers told of their adventures on the AT, shared pictorial slideshows of their expeditions and answered questions from the public about hiking.
Davis announced that this year, she intends to break the record of the fastest male thru-hiker time of 47 days. “It’s just something that I think I can do,” she said, adding that her feat will be pursued largely without commercial sponsorship.
When Doyle was asked about what his greatest accomplishment was on the AT, he said that he was most proud of organizing eight groups of people in his hiking career. “That may be imitated, but it will never, ever, be duplicated,” he said.
“The entity that has known me the most and has never let me down, that always gives me more than I could ever give it, was this sacred path,” he said.
Trail Days Festival
On Saturday, Franklin hosted the third annual April Fools’ Trail Days festival downtown, with outdoor activities and entertainment, complete with vendors of hiking gear, educational exhibits, trail displays, music, food and more.
Festival activities began at 10 a.m., with more than 400 people attending throughout the day, while high winds nearly got the last laugh of the April Fools’ festival.
One of the festival’s highlights was the 2011 “Go Outside & Play Road Show.” Powered by auto maker Subaru, and presented by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, the exhibit made its first ever stop in Franklin. The exhibit is to encourage participants to become more involved with their local outdoor community and to inspire spectators to be more active in the outdoors.
Many people attending the event tried their hand at a rock climbing wall, set up at Town Hall atop town hill—free of charge.
Jennifer Throckmorton, along with her daughter, Bailey, both took a chance on climbing the rock wall that was among the exhibits at the event. “We heard about it in the paper,” said Jennifer, who came with her family from Athens, Ga., to attend the event. “This is definitely a good event for kids also. There is a lot of community stuff up here —we love it.”
Headlining the festival’s lineup was the nationally- acclaimed bluegrass troupe Buncombe Turnpike, based out of Asheville. At one point, amid winds threatening to blow the band and their stage equipment over, Turnpike bassist Tom Godleski introduced 12-year-old Cody Haven as a special guest banjo player. Cody is the son of AT Partner of the Year Ron Haven.
During the bluegrass show, several thru-hikers came to enjoy the music and festivities. One hiker, Katie Moser, and her dog, Allie, were among the AT travellers. Moser said that the festival was a pleasant treat for a hiker fresh off of the trail.
“There’s good food and good music, said Moser, appreciative of the hospitality given by locals. “Everybody talks to me here, asks me where I am from, and tells me they’re glad I am here,” she said. “Those are the things that count to a hiker. To actually have people interested in you and who you are and realize that you’re really just a person.”
Moser and Allie, who came all the way from Denver to thru-hike the AT, attempted the hike before in 2006. They travelled 1,500 miles from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Delaware Water Gap, Pa., and couldn’t go any further. Since that time, Moser said she made it a priority to complete the hike. “I began at Springer [Mountain]. I’ve waited for this for years,” she said, calling her trek a “bucket list” item.
Other local music was abundant at the event. Franklin guitarist Ronnie Evans, the Sweet Tater Band and choral groups from Iotla Valley and South Macon elementary schools entertained festival goers with special selections of music.
Blake Buchanan, of Franklin, attended the event for the music, while perusing the hiking gear displayed by various vendors on Main Street. Buchanan, who has hiked various sections of the AT and the Bartram Trail over the years, said that the event was a welcome sight for many hikers. “I’m having a marvelous time,” he said. “This is definitely hiker-friendly. Most of these people are actually hikers—not just locals.”