Many Roanoke-area residents can immediately identify the illustration on the cover of “All About the Appalachian Trail” as McAfee Knob, the heavily trafficked terminus of Catawba Mountain in western Roanoke County that also happens to be the most-photographed location on the 2,200-mile-long trail.
Author Leonard Adkins once simply called it home.
“We lived just a few hundred feet below McAfee Knob on Appalachian National Scenic Trail lands caretaking a house for the National Park Service from 1993-1998,” said Adkins, via email. “The view from our front window was basically the same as that from the Knob, with deer and black bears as our closest neighbors. Almost every day started with a 1.5 mile (roundtrip) walk to the knob.”
Adkins geared “All About the Appalachian Trail” for children aged 9 to 13. But adults, even those who do quite a bit of hiking themselves, can learn much from it.
The book (Blue River Press, 128 pages, $5.99) was recently named a finalist in the 33rd annual Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Award Young Reader Nonfiction category.
It’s the latest of many honors for Adkins, the “Habitual Hiker” who has written 21 books on the outdoors, nature and travel, including a series of hiking and outdoor recreation guidebooks for Virginia and nearby states. His “Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail” won the National Outdoor Book Award, among other honors.
But until the publication last year of “All About the Appalachian Trail,” Adkins had not written a book specifically for a younger audience.
“I had long thought about an AT book for children, but could not decide on an approach or format for it,” Adkins said by email. “When Blue River Press approached me to write an AT book for their ‘All About the…’ series, things easily fell into place as they had a loose format/template to follow.”
It’s a subject Adkins knows backward and forward, literally, as he’s completed five traverses of the Appalachian Trail that extends from Georgia to Maine, or Maine to Georgia, depending on which way one is hiking.
“All of my other books have been written for a general audience, but writing for children ages 9-13 was really not that much different,” Adkins said. “They can grasp ideas just about as complex as adults; the ideas (and sentences) just have to be presented in a bit more of a ‘bite-size’ manner.”
The book first takes its readers through a history of the Appalachian Trail, starting with the history of the Appalachians themselves, then the formation of the trail itself in the past century, with a focus on several of the people who were inspired to develop the trail.
Adkins then leads readers through a description of hiking the trail from south to north — the most popular direction for thru-hikers ending with a dramatic ascent of Mount Katahdin in Maine — and the many interesting features one encounters along the way.
The book concludes with chapters on equipment and ethics of hiking, a discussion of thru-hikers, animals that may be encountered along the trail, and the trail’s future, challenged by its own popularity and environmental issues.
In the style of the “All About” series of books, it is illustrated throughout by drawings by recent University of William & Mary graduate Kirsten Halvorsen, not by photos or modern graphics, including the colorful cover illustration of Roanoke County’s rocky landmark and the ridges beyond looking toward the Roanoke Valley.
The “All About” series of books by Blue River Press include 20 titles about places and people geared to older elementary-school to middle-school-aged children. Other subjects include former President Barack Obama, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Steph Curry, Yellowstone National Park and the Great Lakes.
Adkins said his goal in writing the book is to emphasize that “the Appalachian Trail is there for EVERYONE, no matter their age or fitness and that it can be appreciated on so many different levels.”
“You can take very long or very short walks, you can enjoy lofty mountain views or quiet mountain valleys,” Adkins said. “You have a chance to see big animals like bears or small ones like turtles; smell the fragrance of spring flowers; enjoy the shade of trees hundreds of years old; exercise in the fresh air; enjoy a swim in a gurgling stream. The trail is also a walk through America’s history — Civil War sites, old homesteads, Native American lands. And all of this is made available to you because people just like you are willing to volunteer their time and hard work to build, maintain, and protect the trail so that everyone can enjoy it.”
Adkins estimates that he has stood on McAfee Knob at least 1,000 times. He and his wife Laurie, who he met while hiking the Appalachian Trail, live in Chesterfield.
“We now live near Richmond, but are actively working on getting back to the Roanoke Valley — as that is where our hearts really want to be.”