Outdoors

Madison Woman Documents A.T. Shelters

Sarah Jones with her daughter, Josephine, photographing a shelter.

MarshallWhether you have spent a night or six months on the Appalachian Trail (A.T), every hiker eventually experiences one of the trail’s iconic lean-tos or huts. More than 250 such backcountry structures exist on the 2,200-mile route, and they have welcomed hikers since the trail’s inception in 1937. 

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) defines the term shelter, sometimes referred to as a lean-to, as a ‘three-sided structure, with or without bunks or floors, intended as overnight housing for hikers.’ The term shelter on the A.T. can also include enclosed structures, unlocked cabins and the hut system in the White Mountains. Built, maintained and preserved with thousands of hours by dedicated trail clubs and volunteers, shelters have always been and continue to be an integral part of the trail experience.

Madison County-based photographer and writer, Sarah Jones Decker, documented and organized every single shelter on the A.T. for the first time in her book, The Appalachian Trail: Backcountry Shelters, Lean-tos and Huts, released in the spring of 2020 with Rizzoli Publications in New York. This informative and unique resource packed with trail and shelter photos, information, and detailed maps are a first-of-its-kind resource.

Decker, originally from Virginia, moved to Madison Co. in 2003. She has her MFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art & Design and a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing from Virginia Tech.  She and her husband own Root Bottom Farm in Marshall, NC and she maintains a studio at Marshall High Studios. Her work can be found at sarahjonesdecker.com and rootbottomfarm.com. 

Sarah thru-hiked the A.T. in 2008 after graduate school and then re-hiked it again in 2018 and 2019 for this massive documentary project. Decker even carried her young daughter Josephine, beginning when she was just nine months old, with her on day hikes for over 350 miles in eight states for the project. She even took her first steps on the trail in Pennsylvania. Sarah worked with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy-and in collaboration with the trail community of hikers, historians, photographers, writers, and clubs. Decker’s cataloging style is inspired by two of her art heroes, German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose black and white photography work documented types of German buildings and organized them in grids to compare the subtle differences.

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