The only thing new in the world, the saying goes, is the history you don’t know, and one of the things you probably never knew is that in the 1930s serious people were making serious recommendations that an auto road—a skyline—be constructed over the tops of the Green Mountains in Vermont and the tops of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.
Benton MacKaye, the man widely credited with having the dream of building the Appalachian Trail, was appalled at the idea of the skylines. “A wilderness is like a secret,” MacKaye once said. “The best way to keep it is to keep it. Keep the wilderness wild. Do not manicure it.”
This history you didn’t know comes from “Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery and the Rivalry That Built the Appalachian Trail,” a book by Maine writer Jeffrey Ryan. He tells the story of the clash between MacKaye and Avery—the former was considered the dreamer, the latter the doer—and how the trail they envisioned and built is now likely to remain a part of the American landscape forever. “High and dry above the stupendous detail of our job we should hold the reason for it all,” MacKaye said. “This is not to cut a path and then say—‘Ain’t it beautiful?’ Our job is to open a realm.”