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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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JANUARY 11, 2006
"Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up."
- Robert Frost

Old timber fence posts defining territory in the North Carolina woods on May 21, 2005.

Let's continue on the subject of fencing with a look at some of the functional-but- picturesque wooden fences, and several types of stiles to get over them, along the Appalachian Trail.

Some of the fences are in fields that have been abandoned since the land came under US Forest Service use for the Appalachian Trail but many of the fields are still used for grazing or crops. I'll have more photo essays in a few days that show some of the scenic fields and farms along the AT and the four-legged critters that reside there. For now, let's stick to the structures themselves.

Almost all of the scenic wooden fences I photographed were in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, although I saw them in other states, too. They just seemed the most photogenic in the South for some reason.

The peaceful North Carolina fence line above is a little bit south of Sam's Gap (Day 22). Because it was on a ridge, it may have been built to mark a property line.

The serene setting below was down the hill from Max Patch (Day 18) and was one of the first wooden fences that caught my eye along the Trail. It didn't appear that any active grazing was still being done there.

The fence below on Day 24 was on one of the hilltops near the NC/TN line somewhere between the Nolichucky River and Iron Mountain Gap. It also appears to be a relic from earlier farming or grazing activities.

One of my favorite shots from the entire adventure run is this one on a mountainside with dramatic clouds in the sky behind the old fence row (Day 25, a bit north of Hwy. 19E/Elk Park in Tennessee):

Although no longer used for its original purpose, the fence serves as a great spot to put an AT blaze!

Since there is an occupied home beyond this fence in Virginia, it probably serves as a boundary marker between private property and the AT. This is a beautiful setting with the North Fork of the Holston River and numerous spring flowers on the left of the Trail and the old abandoned Tilson Mill shown in Photos 5 and on Day 34  just north of this location.

I had a pleasant hike through the first working farm that I encountered on the trek as the AT went right up a dirt road past the fencing below . . .

. . . and between these fences . . .

. . .  past some little out-buildings, and through several fields where a farmer was harvesting a crop, probably spring wheat. The account of my surprised passage through this farm is on Day 29.

I've hiked the AT through fields with cows, but not a guy on a tractor! In fact, that was the only such incident on the whole AT for me. Cool, huh? (Yes, I was on the Trail. See the white blaze on the pole in the middle of the picture?) This farm is just north of TN 91.

I went through many fields with grazing cattle and other livestock during my journey, including this pasture across from the Elk Garden, Virginia trail head (Day 31):

The AT goes right through the field toward Mt. Rogers. The split-rail fencing keeps the bovines off the road (VA 600).


Although a "stile" is defined as a set of steps used to get over a fence or wall, any un-gated method used to cross a wooden or wire fence on the Appalachian Trail is considered a stile. I'll show several kinds of stiles that are common along the AT, and one very un-common one.

First, there are the kinds of ladders that go up and over the fence.

They are mostly made of wood and often require grabbing onto the upper "rungs" to raise and lower yourself, similar to climbing a ladder at home. The example below of a simple ladder-type stile is from Day 34 in southern Virginia:

The photo below shows a more sturdy ladder-type stile in New Jersey on Day 91. Flat steps like these are easier to negotiate than the "vertical" type above where you step on the narrow edge of the board..

Only a few of the ladder-stiles had hand-holds along the side; those were a dream to use. This sturdy stile with railings is in a scenic pastoral setting in Pennsylvania from Day 65:

The ladder-stiles may or may not have all their rungs or steps, making for some very LARGE steps up or down in some cases. I don't have any photos of those, but they are out there begging to be repaired . . .

Another common type of stile doesn't go up and over the fence but is incorporated into it in a sideways "V" or "U" shape such that the livestock cannot pass through but people can.

This is another one of  my favorite AT shots, taken in the Mt. Rogers National Recreational Area in Virginia on Day 32. It shows a V-shaped stile:

Another similar stile in the Humps in TN/NC is shown here on Day 27. On mountains like this, livestock are used as "bald maintainers" to keep the grasses and brush in check, ensuring hikers have a view from the top.

An example of a U-shaped stile is found north of Mt. Rogers (Day 32 again):

The strangest stile I found was this flat metal grid design in a protected beech forest between Clingman's Dome and Newfound Gap in the Smokies (NC/TN). It was a wet day, making for a slippery walk up and down that grid on Day 15 to cross the skimpy wire fence (the fence is almost invisible in this photo):

As you can see, there are a number of stile styles and interesting wooden fences along the AT. This is just a sampling; I hope you have the opportunity to find some of the others.

Next up: photos of various ways to climb up and down steep rocks and mountains on the Appalachian Trail, including wooden ladders, metal grab bars, and different types of steps.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil