Italian American Digest DIGEST Fall 2017 FINAL (1) - Page 6

I talian A merican D igest PAGE 6 FALL 2017 New Orleanian’s Appalachian Hike ‘Life-Changing’ I by Enrico Villamaino III n 1948, U.S. Army veteran Earl Shaffer, looking to “walk the war out of [his] system,” became the first person to make a documented hiking trip in a single season of the Appalachian Trail. In the nearly 70 years since, countless wanderers and adventurers have followed in his footsteps. American Italian Cultural Center member and New Orleans native Brandon Barone Leon recently sat down with the Italian American Di- gest to discuss his trek through one quarter of the American states. What made you want to hike the Appalachian Trail? I’ve been hiking ever since high school, and I’ve always thought of the AT as the granddaddy of all cross-country trails. I was fortunate enough where everything was lin- ing up just right in my life to allow me to go after this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How long is the Appalachian Trail and how long did it take you to finish? It changes every year because the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will make minor adjustments and detours each season. When I hiked it last year, it was 2,189.1 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Photos courtesy of Brandon Barone Leon Above: Brandon Barone Leon sits atop McAfee’s Knob on Catawba Mountain in Vir- ginia. Leon hiked all 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail between April and October 2016. Above right: Leon celebrates reaching the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, one of the most difficult hikes of the Appalachian Trail. Mount Katahdan in Maine, right up the backbone of America! I started April 26th and finished October 11th — five and a half of the best months of my life. You hiked northward? Yes, that’s called “NOBO,” for “northbound.” About three-quarters of all “thru-hikers,” who backpack the trail in its entirety, will hike The History of Columbus Day I by Megan Celona n 1989, President George H. W. Bush declared October the Nation- al Italian American Heritage month and every succeeding year, the acting president has signed an executive or- der to continue the tradition. October was selected because Columbus Day occurs during that month. In 1792, New York’s Columbian Order held the first Columbus Day to commemorate the 300th anniver- sary of Columbus’ historic landing. For the 400th anniversary in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to celebrate Columbus. The holiday occurred in various cities throughout the United States annually. Thanks to the dedication of the Knights of Co- lumbus, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937. The holiday has been criticized since its inception. In the late 1800s, anti-immigrant groups rejected the holiday for its association with Southern European Catholicism. In recent decades, Native American groups have protested the celebration because it indirectly led to America’s colonization and the decimation of indigenous populations. Today, the holiday continues to be controversial. Christopher Columbus didn’t actual- ly land in North America; he landed in the Bahamas, where he enslaved native peoples and imposed barbaric forms of punishment. To the Italian community, Chris- topher Columbus is celebrated not for his actions but for what he rep- resents. Italians faced discrimina- tion when they arrived in the United States, and Columbus Day allowed them to publicly acknowledge and celebrate their heritage. The Ameri- can Italian Cultural Center looks forward to celebrating National Ital- ian American Heritage month with our amici! NOBO. I think northbound is better than southbound, as it allows you to start a bit earlier in the year and you get to “walk through the seasons.” What states did you hike through? Georgia, North Carolina, Tennes- see, Virginia, West Virginia, Mary- land, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachu- setts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. What was your favorite part of the trail? What were some of your personal highlights? Hiking through the White Moun- tains in New Hampshire and Maine was my favorite part of the trail. I hit that part of the trail just as the turn- ing leaves were at their most vibrant. I also loved getting to walk my way through two national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Shenandoah National Park. Breathtaking views. I can’t leave out the night sky at the top of Mt. Kil- Appalachian Trail cont. on page 12