West Highland link to Appalachian Trail
THE West Highland Way, the long-distance walking route between Milngavie and Fort William, has been linked up with a world-renowned hiking route along the eastern mountains of North America.
The 96-mile Way has been named as the first European addition to the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).
The existing trail stretches 2,178 miles from Georgia to Maine and then across the Canadian border to Newfoundland and is tramped by up to four million pairs of boots a year.
The link with the West Highland Way could deliver a major boost to the economy of the communities along the route, including Fort William where a new terminus is currently under construction in the town’s West End.
The official welcome of the West Highland Way comes just a year after an IAT delegation travelled to Scotland to hold exploratory meetings with representatives from the British Geological Survey, local trail organisations, Lochaber Geopark Association officials and government representatives on the possibility of Scotland becoming a European “chapter” of the IAT.
The closer links between the regions has been promoted since ancient Scottish mountains and the Appalachian range were born of the same geological source. The union has been developed by the Edinburgh-based British Geological Survey.
Although the West Highland Way will be the first official section and will be marked with IAT signs, coastal paths farther south in Ayrshire and farther north towards Cape Wrath will eventually be included.
IAT president Paul Wylezol said he was excited to have the West Highland Way on board and felt that the move would renew and expand cultural links.
He added: “IAT trails help expand local adventure tourism industries, and in particular to create employment and business opportunities in rural areas, including accommodation, transportation, guiding and interpretation and retail sales, including local arts and crafts.”
The manager of the West Highland Way Development Company, Gordon Forrester, said: “We are very proud to be the first European members of the IAT. We aim to build on the shared cultural heritage and our love of the great outdoors.”