MHU Adjunct Professor to release book of Appalachian Trail photos

Published 8:31 am Tuesday, December 10, 2019

“The Appalachian Trail: Backcountry Shelters, Lean-Tos, and Huts,” a documentary book of photographs by Sarah Jones Decker, will be released in April 2020, by Rizzoli, a major NYC publisher of fine photography books.

Decker, an adjunct professor of art and photography at Mars Hill University, has photographed all of the over-250 structures along the 2,200-mile route. Her documentary project, the first of its kind, involved the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the community of hikers, historians, writers, and clubs that celebrate, study, and advocate for the Appalachian Trail.

Decker did her first through-hike of the Appalachian Trail — or “AT” — in 2008, from Georgia to Maine. After her baby was born in 2017, she decided to celebrate her ten-year “trailsversary,” by hiking sections of the AT more often. She did not know at the time that that commitment would eventually turn into the book project.

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“After having a baby in 2017, I wanted to get back in shape and decided to set the goal of hiking every month of 2018,” she said. “Since the AT runs some 70 miles right through Madison County and the nearby trail town of Hot Springs, it was easy to get out every week. I revisited my journals from my through-hike and saw that I had doodled about the idea of documenting all of the shelters on the AT. I started doing some research and found that no project like that existed.”

Decker said she followed the lead of two of her art heroes, German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose books document types of buildings and organize them in grids to compare the subtle differences. She then reached out to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). The conservancy was excited about the idea, she said, and surprised that no one had thought of documenting the trail shelters before.

“A goal of getting in shape turned into hiking again all 14 states that encompass the AT, getting a book deal with a New York publisher, and documenting and writing the history of the over 250 shelters,” Decker said. “Apparently, it had never been done before and was a new idea that the ATC was excited about.”

Decker even carried her young daughter, beginning when she was nine months old, with her on day hikes over 350 miles in eight states.

A resident of Madison County, Decker said she loves the AT, and loves having it in her “backyard.” In addition to teaching at MHU and being involved in the WNC arts community, Decker and her husband operate Root Bottom Farm in Marshall. MHU’s Weizenblatt Gallery will host an exhibition of Decker’s Appalachian Trail photographs in June, with exact dates to be announced.

More information about “The Appalachian Trail: Backcountry Shelters, Lean-Tos, and Huts,” including photos and the opportunity to pre-order, is available on Decker’s website,