MONSON — Appalachian Trail hikers hear the rumors about Monson along their 2,180-mile journey from Georgia to Maine. They know the town’s reputation for hospitality, a helping hand and a Trail spirit.
For years the little town near Moosehead Lake has been considered an AT town, where thru-hikers stop to refuel right before or after the famed 100-Mile Wilderness. Now Monson officially will be designated as such.
Next month the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, W.V., will bestow the designation and put Monson on its map as an official AT town.
But the question before locals is, will that help? And for a town of 665 with an annual median income of $32,000, it’s a pretty big question.
“I asked (town manager) Julie Anderson if it would change anything. She wasn’t sure,” said Rebekah Anderson, owner of Lakeshore House, the only pub in town.
There are just 21 AT-designated towns between Georgia and Maine, said Julie Judkins, the community program director with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Towns must be close to the trail and a natural rest stop for hikers. The townspeople also must show a level of hospitality and trail spirit, Judkins said.
Some designated towns have used the honor as a reason to hold hiking festivals, which Judkins said can bring in tourists.
“Damascus, Va., every year has a trail festival and it does bring in as many as 10,000 people. A lot of hikers use it as a reunion where they meet people they met on the trail. It’s a very small town but they’ve had a lot of trail success,” Judkins said.
Monson is that kind of small town, the kind that passes you by before you know it on the road to Moosehead Lake. If you didn’t stop for gas, maybe a walk along Lake Hebron or a bite in one of the two restaurants, it might go unnoticed.
Yet, for AT hikers, Monson has been a model of friendliness. Locals happily accept the smelly hikers who arrive from the 100-Mile Wilderness wearing a week’s worth of dirt.
“They call us and we pick them up in the middle of the night, take them to the hospital, or hike in and rescue their dog. They knock on our doors dirty and tired, tell us their stories, and then they’re gone,” said Anderson at Lakeshore House.
Michelle and Stan Moody, local camp owners, are helping with the designation ceremony that will take place July 21. They see the generosity toward hikers from the townspeople and hope the good karma comes back to them.
“At Lakeshore House, Rebekah has a floating bonfire; she lets hikers jump in from the dock during lunch. She does a lot of trail magic,” said Michelle Moody.
But Monson is both a town that welcomes AT hikers and one that depends on them.
At Spring Creek Bar-B-Q, where fans of pulled pork travel from hours away, the distinctive, western outpost is a landmark on the road to Moosehead. But the owners recognize their neighbor’s need for increased business in town.
“Everything matters. The paper mills are leaving this state. Tourism is a really valid thing,” said the owner, Mike Witham, while taking a break from shelling crabs.
“Being a trail town, of course it will help. People come here to talk to hikers. They want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
On July 21, the town will hold its summer celebration, the ceremony to commemorate its new title, and hope a new chapter begins in Monson with a future full of more hikers.
“It will make people more aware of Monson. We’ve been part of the AT for many years but we’ve never been recognized,” said Julie Anderson, the town manager.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: