The Green Tunnel

R2 Studios

The Green Tunnel explores the history and culture of the United States’ most iconic long-distance hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail. Hosted by Mills Kelly, the show delves into topics including the quirky history of trail food, the shelters and structures built along the trail, and dangers you might encounter during a hike. read less

Our Editor's Take

The Green Tunnel podcast explores the Appalachian Trail from its conception, through its storied past, and into its future. Listeners hear about exciting aspects of the trail. These range from iconic locations to legendary hikers. They also learn about its challenges, including ticks and bears.

Podcast host Mills Kelly started this project in 2021 when the trail turned 100 years old. He began hiking it in 1971 and researching it in 2016. Kelly earned the trail name "Grandaddy Spartan." He wrote Virginia's Lost Appalachian Trail. Kelly is a history professor at George Mason University. He directs the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, which produces the show.

The Green Tunnel podcast talks about influential people in the trail's history. Benton MacKaye conceptualized the trail. Myron Avery made it happen. Kelly reads a letter from MacKaye to Avery. One insisted on a connected trail, whether it went through the wilderness or not. The other thought it should be a wilderness trail, even if it didn't connect states. Listeners hear about MacKaye's unconventional childhood and inventive father. His dad was a playwright who held seventeen patents. MacKaye inherited his propensity for ideas. At age 13, he skipped school to sort shells at the Smithsonian Institution. He graduated from Harvard with a forestry degree.

Kelly and podcast guests discuss the American chestnut tree. It was once prevalent on the trail from Georgia to Maine. It provided food for turkeys, bears, pigeons, and indigenous Americans. Settlers built homes, cradles, and caskets from the tree that historians called "perfect." Then, imported Japanese chestnut trees brought a pathogen that was lethal to American chestnuts. Listeners hear why the American Chestnut Foundation now works daily to repopulate it.

The Green Tunnel podcast is educational and inspirational but with good humor. It discusses a trail nickname prompted by some hiker's toilet habits. There are tales of bunions and shimmying sideways through "The Lemon Squeezer." Above all, it's an homage to a trail known for promoting peace, adventure, and health for over a century. Kelly and his guests revere this remarkable pathway every other Tuesday.

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Episodes

The Weight of History
May 2 2023
The Weight of History
The Appalachian Trail is a much more diverse place in 2023 than it was as recently as 20 years ago. But if you spend much time on the trail, you know it’s still a pretty white place. There are many stories about the challenges faced by members of marginalized communities who hike the AT, and we need a lot more research to better understand how the history of the trail and the history of race are closely interwoven.  On today’s episode, attorney Krystal Williams of Maine and historian Phoebe Young of the University of Colorado-Boulder help us explore specifically how the history of the AT crosses paths with African American history, in ways you might not expect.  Further Reading:  Mills Kelly, “The A.T. and Race” AT Journeys, February 2021: https://appalachiantrail.org/official-blog/the-a-t-and-race/. Megan Rosenbloom, Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin (New York: MacMillian, 2020). Noelle Smith, “How Perceived Racial Differences Created a Crisis in Black Women’s Healthcare,” Nursing Clio, March 31, 2020, https://nursingclio.org/2020/03/31/how-perceived-racial-differences-created-a-crisis-in-black-womens-healthcare/  Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Random House, 2008). Phoebe S. K. Young, Camping Grounds: Public Nature in American Life from the Civil War to the Occupy Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021).