HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (March 24, 2020) – After multiple sections of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) experienced large crowds over the weekend, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) issued guidance to all hikers late yesterday to postpone any hikes on this famous footpath until the risks of spreading COVID-19 to others has reduced significantly. In a letter to the A.T. hiking community, ATC President & CEO Sandra Marra addressed the increasing difficulty to practice social distancing on popular hiking trails like the A.T. and the risk of unknowingly contracting and spreading the virus.
“In a time when social distancing is necessary to minimize the spread and contraction of a dangerous virus, many have escaped to nature seeking isolation and unpopulated spaces,” said Marra in the letter. “On the Appalachian Trail, however, what they’ve found are trailhead parking lots exceeding their maximum capacities, shelters full of overnight hikers, day hikers using picnic tables and privies, and group trips continuing as planned. Hiking the A.T. has become, in other words, the opposite of social distancing.”
Marra called specific attention to the risk the virus poses to rural communities along the A.T. where many hikers begin and end their hikes, as many of these locations do not have healthcare resources that are equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak. She also cited the lack of ATC staff and Trail volunteers able to minimize environmental impacts and inform visitors of the risks of spreading COVID-19.
“Many day hikers see the outdoors as an escape from the stresses of these difficult times,” she said. “But with crowding from day hikers reaching unmanageable levels and the lack of any staff or volunteers to manage this traffic, it is necessary that all hikers avoid accessing the Trail.”
The A.T. is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world, with more than 3 million visitors walking on some section of the Trail each year. Another 3-4 thousand hikers attempt to “thru-hike” the Trail, traveling all 2,193 miles of the footpath in a single calendar year.
“There is an unfortunate truth about this virus: unless everyone is safe, no one is safe,” said Marra.
To read the full letter and find more information on COVID-19’s effects on the A.T., visit appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.
About the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
The ATC was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. A unit of the National Park System, the A.T. ranges from Maine to Georgia and is 2,193 miles in length. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. The mission of the ATC is to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail – ensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come. For more information, please visit www.appalachiantrail.org.