PIKEVILLE – The University of Pikeville will screen the documentary “Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story,” the inspiring account of the life, tribulations and achievements of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail alone. The event will be held Thursday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. in Booth Auditorium, Record Memorial Building. The screening is free and everyone is welcome.
Prior to the screening, Bette Lou Higgins, the film’s producer, will share a story-telling presentation titled, “Grandma Gatewood: Ohio’s Legendary Hiker.”
Gatewood’s story is one of empowerment. In 1955, at 67, she left her small Ohio town and her 11 children and 23 grandchildren and set off to trek the Appalachian Trail. She’d long been fascinated by the 2,050-mile trail and was particularly lured by the fact that no woman had ever hiked it alone. Knowing her family wouldn’t approve, she didn’t tell them about her journey. A pioneer of ultralight hiking, she traveled with a 17-pound sack of supplies and no tent or sleeping bag.
“I’m so excited to be able to bring both our storytelling program and documentary about Grandma Gatewood to the University of Pikeville,” said Higgins. “This is the first college campus that is hosting such an event and it’s especially meaningful that the school is so near the trail and in Central Appalachia.”
Gatewood became a hiking celebrity and was featured on the “Today Show,” “Groucho Marx,” “You Bet Your Life,” and the “Tonight Show.” Her story raised the veil on several cultural barriers of the day, including age and sex discrimination.
More than six decades later, Gatewood’s story still resonates.
“I bought the biography of Grandma Gatewood and fell in love with her story, which is one of empowerment and survival in the face of adversity,” said Darla French, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology. “She’s a domestic abuse survivor and the fact that she was the first ultralight through-hiker of the Appalachian Trail as well as being the first woman to through-hike at the age of 57, I think is remarkable. But it is also a story of an Appalachian woman connecting with her roots through communing with the land, which is quite beautiful. I believe her story will speak to many diverse audiences on campus and in our community.”
While on campus, Higgins will speak to a variety of classes including, film festivals, spirituality and world religions and Appalachian literature.
“I’m sure that Emma’s story will be one that will inspire many in the audience to keep striving to accomplish their goals no matter how long or difficult the trail,” said Higgins.
The screening is hosted by the university’s biology department and sponsored by the experiential learning office.