Appalachian Trail grows north; Hike: Through some of the most beautiful scenery in eastern Canada, a new 625-mile extension of the famous route is open.


FREEPORT, Maine -- For hikers who can't get enough of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, Dick Anderson has the answer.

The new 625-mile International Appalachian Trail begins where its American counterpart leaves off in northern Maine.

It skips across some of Canada's most beautiful wilderness before dipping its toes in the Atlantic at Cape Gaspe in New Brunswick.

No less an authority than Backpacker magazine has said of Anderson's footpath: "C'est mag-nifique."

For five years, Anderson, a retired lawyer and former Maine conservation official, has been working with outdoors enthusiasts in Quebec and New Brunswick to make the connection to America's most famous trail.

On June 5, Canadian officials and Anderson dedicated the end point of the trail in Parc Forillon.

The next day, Scott Galloway, a 26-year-old Michigan man, began the long walk south. He is expected to walk into Harpers Ferry, W.Va., along the Appalachian Trail on Tuesday.

Anderson says Galloway will reach the southern terminus of the AT, Springer Mountain, Ga., about Nov. 15 and will keep walking south on the Pinhoti Trail and the Florida Trail until he again reaches the Atlantic in Key West early next year.

If he finishes, Galloway will be the first hiker to walk the IAT from north to south.

But he isn't the first through-hiker. Or the second.

John Brinda, then a 22-year-old college student from Washington state, walked from Key West to Cape Gaspe in 1997, when only half of the IAT was mapped.

Brinda said he literally was walking on trail as it was being built by volunteers.

He was followed last year by M. J. Eberhart, trail name "Nimblewill Nomad," who turned 60 as he walked north.

Eberhart, a retired Georgia optometrist, says long-distance hiking "is a bug, an itch that gets inside of you.

"I wasn't in good condition when I started, but I found out later I wasn't in bad condition," he says in a voice a lot like Jimmy Stewart's. "I just came out of Florida and kept on going."

He began his trek Jan. 1 and ended 4,800 miles later Oct. 24.

"I'm nothing special. I'm not a world-class anything," he says quietly. "But if you've done it, it ain't bragging."

Anderson says two hikers going south to north expect to finish at Cape Gaspe Oct. 8, then catch a ride to Hanover, N.H., to participate in an IAT celebration Columbus Day weekend.

"We'll have six or seven hikers finish this year and probably 10 or 20 next year," Anderson predicts.

"When people start talking about the beauty of it, more hikers will want to see it for themselves."

He modestly says the IAT "would have happened with or without me," but the gregarious 64-year-old nonetheless talks about the trail with a fierce paternal pride.

The idea was first floated publicly April 22 -- Earth Day -- 1994 by a Maine gubernatorial candidate, Joseph Brennan, but it was one Anderson had long harbored.

"The trees, the animals, the birds, they don't stop at the Canadian border. Why should the trail?" Anderson says.

With no money but a lot of enthusiasm, Anderson and four other Mainers met with 10 Canadians in June 1994 at the Mount Carleton Provincial Park in New Bruns-wick.

The executive board of the International Appalachian Trail/Sentier International des Appalaches was born. The group set an ambitious deadline for the IAT: Earth Day 2000.

"When I first had this idea, I didn't think about what the definition of completed was," Anderson says, laughing.

"But trails are never completed."

The red tape and bureaucracy alone were daunting. Two countries, one with two provinces involved; two languages; an international crossing point; four Canadian park authorities and hundreds of private landowners.

"Who knew?" Anderson says. "Ignorance was bliss."

The spark for the IAT came from Maine, but a lot of the fire is coming from Quebec and New Brunswick park officials.

This fall, New Brunswick is building shelters along its roughly 170 miles, while Quebec crews are blazing 50 miles of the more than 300 total miles within its borders.

"Of the total 625 miles, we have 400 to 450 in the woods and 200 miles along roads," Anderson says.

"Quebec will have all of its trail in the woods by the end of next October, which is amazing when you consider that much of it is brand-new trails through rugged mountains."

Canadian post offices along the route have been alerted to hold food and clothing packages for hikers, just as post offices along the AT have.

Anderson says a glossary of French and English hiking terms will soon be ready for publication.

Maine, Anderson somewhat ruefully acknowledges, is not being nearly as aggressive. Most of the trail from Baxter State Park, the AT's northern terminus, to Mars Hill Mountain on the Canadian border remains primitive, at best.

Officials at Baxter State Park refused to allow the new trail to link within park borders, fearing loss of control.

The Appalachian Trail Conference, based in Harpers Ferry, liked the idea of a new trail, but not as a continuation of the famous Georgia-to-Maine route.

"That would make it the Appalachian Trail Conference's responsibility to find volunteers and money to maintain it," says ATC spokesman Brian King.

And, King notes, the AT is a hiker-only trail, while the IAT uses some trails that allow snowmobiles, horses and all-terrain vehicles.

As a result, the IAT starts just outside Baxter State Park at Abol Bridge and skirts its border as it makes its way east to the Canadian line.

Anderson says he is trying to persuade state officials to help him negotiate agreements with landowners to allow the trail through.

"People [hiking] it now have to understand that they're dealing with a work in progress," he says.

But what a work it is.

In Maine, you can watch fabulous sunrises and sunsets from the top of 2,100-foot Mars Hill, which Anderson claims is the first place in the eastern United States to be touched by the sun each day.

In New Brunswick, there is the 2,690-foot Mount Carleton, the highest peak in the Maritime provinces.

Crossing into Quebec (and over the Restigouche and Matapedia rivers), the trail passes through three provincial parks, the middle one being Parc de la Gaspesie, home of 4,000-foot Mount Logan.

At Parc Forillon, "you taste the ocean before you see it," says Paul Mann in his review of the IAT for Backpacker.

"Finally, there's a lighthouse atop 300-foot cliffs, then nothing but ocean."

Eberhart, known as the IAT bard, says the hike changed his life:

"On Earth, we search for perfect peace, it is our lifelong quest. Up here, you'll find God's presence around and in you as you rest."

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