By Mary Stortstrom
HARPERS FERRY-Though the Appalachian Trail may be well-known along the East Coast, the film, “A Walk in the Woods,” which opened Wednesday, is introducing the Appalachian Trail to audiences across the nation-and could possibly inspire more people to hike the Trail.
The film, starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson, is based on the 1998 bestselling novel “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson.
According to Javier Folgar, director of marketing and communications with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Conservancy worked closely with the film’s producers and directors to ensure an accurate portrayal of the Trail and a hiker’s experience.
“We met with the production team to suggest locations, and making sure the film is as authentic as possible. We wanted to make sure the representation in the film is true to the hikers’ experience. (The film crew) wanted to show a good example of ‘leave no trace’ ethics,” Folgar said. “They have a true respect for the trail.”
Folgar said some scenes in the movie were filmed on the Appalachian Trail at McAffee Knob in Virginia, but said the majority of filming was done in Georgia at sites off the Trail.
“The Appalachian Trail is the no. 1 world premiere trail, and the fact that a Hollywood movie is coming out is absolutely incredible. The opportunity to reach such a huge audience is phenomenal. (The film) introduces the American people and beyond to this national treasure that’s right in their backyard,” he said.
Folgar said the Appalachian Trail Conservancy does anticipate an increase in hikers following the film’s debut.
Within two years of Bryson’s novel being published in 1998, there was a 60 percent increase in through hikers who wanted to hike the entire Trail, Folgar said.
In anticipation of the increased hiker traffic on the Appalachian Trail, Folgar said the Conservancy is taking proactive measures, and has released campaigns to promote “leave no trace” outdoor ethics and “trail karma,” which Folgar explained as a “pay-it-forward” concept relating to respect for other hikers and the natural environment.
He said the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is also promoting “flip-flopping,” a program that encourages through hikers to exit the trail and get a ride to another point to continue their hike, thus reducing traffic in crowded sections of the Trail.
“We’re increasing public education and encouraging people to flip-flop and spread out on the Trail,” Folgar said. “We’ve really cooperated with our 31 trail maintaining clubs, educating them and preparing them for this anticipated increase in visitation.”
Margaret Olwell, a through hiker on the Appalachian Trail from Seattle, Washington, was recharging-both body and cell phone-in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Upper Town Harpers Ferry, where she ended up after a flip flop further south on the Trail.
She said she began in Georgia with a friend, and they hiked 800 miles before flip-flopping due to crowding
on the Trail.
Olwell said she has 230 remaining miles to hike before she completes the entire Appalachian Trail.
“I’ve heard a lot about the movie. Every single person who hikes on the trail asks if you’ve read the book or want to see the movie. People were saying the Trail will be more crowded next year, but it’s already crowded now,” she said. “I read about half of the book, and if I see the movie, I’ll probably go with my Dad.”
In Lower Town Harpers Ferry, Barb and Dave Glauer and their friend Paula Cooperrider crossed into Harpers Ferry from Maryland on the Appalachian Trail -and crossed an item off their bucket list.
“(Hiking the Appalachian Trail and visiting Harpers Ferry) has been on my bucket list for a long time,” Cooperrider said. “I’m so excited that I finally got to do it.”
Barb said the trio hiked in Shenandoah National Park on Tuesday, and decided to come to Harpers Ferry to hike and see the sights.
“We didn’t come because of the movie, but we’ve seen the previews on TV and thought (the film) looked funny,” Dave said.
“If we can find it in a theater tonight, we’ll go see it,” Barb added.
Folgar, who had seen “A Walk in the Woods” six times before it opened in theaters, said the film, a buddy comedy, is enjoyable.
“It’s a lighthearted comedy, and when it’s over, you want to get out and hike the Trail. That’s exactly what you want.”
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.