Infantry Chaplain Still on Point: Trail Chaplain seeks the Lost on America’s Great TrailsBy

Dennis Newton, Chaplain, Colonel, US Army, Retired, current Trail Chaplain

Chaplain Dennis Newton is known around the Appalachian Trail as “Trail Pilgrim.” After his retirement in 2015 from 35 years of service in the Army, he decided to combine his chaplain skills with his passion for the out of doors. CBAmerica changed his chaplain endorsement from Military to that of Trail Chaplain. He spent 6 months hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine with the Warrior Expeditions walking along side Veterans making some difficult transitions after their service. The spiritual conversations were many.

It was during this time that he became acquainted with many leaders on the trail and learned of opportunities to put his leadership training to use assisting Hikers.

One such group, the Appalachian Long-Distance Hikers Association (known as ALDHA) focuses more on the people hiking the trails rather than on the administration of the trails. Part of their purpose is education and the history of the trail. This helps hikers appreciate what a rare thing it is find a trail created to take them on multiple day journeys to escape the chaos of modern times.  Dennis says he’s always appreciated that Jesus lived in a culture which had to travel by foot or hoof and that the closer we come to experiencing this ourselves can help us understand the life of our Lord.

While attending a Trail Days gathering (about 5000 hikers participate each year) in Damascus, VA, Dennis overheard a discussion between the Coordinator of ALDHA, Ron Burger, and several other leaders of the group. Ron felt he was not making much progress on putting a replica of the iconic AT “Hiker” plaque back at the original 1934 Southern Terminus. This was located on Mount Oglethorpe about 30 trail miles south of the current starting point atop Springer Mountain near Amicalola Falls.

The trail was moved to Springer in 1958 as post war Atlanta sprawl was causing a loss of wilderness around Mount Oglethorpe. But over the years the reasons for that original location have been forgotten and the story about why the AT was founded in order for city dwellers to experience wilderness.

Dennis approached Ron Burger to learn what roadblocks were keeping the project from completion. The biggest hurdle, it seems, was the replica plaque. No one knew how to copy it and have it made. Dennis said he had worked in a foundry while he was in college and knew of various methods which could be used. Mostly it seemed to him it was more like the contracting duties he had performed where one researches for the best quality and price from the businesses competing in the field. He quickly located two foundries – both with AT ties and obtained bids. He soon favored the East Point Foundry near Atlanta for 2 main reasons. The first was the original plaque was made in Georgia for the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and the 2nd, the foundry owner’s son had completed a Thru Hike of the AT.  East Point committed to a price well below their own costs.

In February another aluminum replica was discovered in Penn State and transported to East Point by Ron and Dennis. Two Bronze “Hiker” plaques were cast from it, one for Oglethorpe and the other for the AT Museum. In March Ron and Dennis met in Abington VA with the COVID19 issues beginning to close restaurants and hotels, where they coordinated for the next steps. COVID19 ultimately delayed project.

Both of the plaques were kept at Dennis’ home in Ozark, AL until a lull in the virus outbreak in October 2020 allowed for the current ALDHA leadership to hold a workday with a Stone Mason and the plaque was mounted in a spot at Oglethorpe where one can actually see Springer Mtn. A very fitting place to tell the story.

Dennis Newton continues as a Chaplain for CBAmerica walking alongside hikers having conversations wherever they may lead. He is currently serving as the Alabama State Chaplain for the Military Officer’s Association of America and as the Recording Secretary for the Appalachian Long-Distance Hikers Association. 

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Join us is asking God’s guidance and sustaining grace for Chaplain Newton. With a faith forged in battle, he brings needed wisdom and insight to those with whom he continues to march and serve. While you are at it, pray for the 200 other CBAmerica/Venture Church Network chaplain in military and civilian settings.

For more stores by and about our conventional and creative chaplains, visit http://cbamerica.org/category/chaplaincy/ .  For information on chaplaincy endorsement email Randy Brandt at chapbrandt@cbamerical.org.

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