HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (April 2, 2020) – Yesterday, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and 29 of the 31 Appalachian Trail Maintaining Clubs formally requested the official closure of the 2,193-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) due to the growing risk of visitors spreading COVID-19 among other hikers, nearby communities and beyond. The ATC delivered a formal letter to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the Deputy Director of the National Park Service (NPS) and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) recommending the Trail’s closure effective immediately until April 30, 2020, with intermittent convenings of the cooperative managers of the Trail to determine whether it is safe to reopen it again.
The request for closure came after the ATC instructed all staff and volunteers, as well as all visitors (both day and overnight hikers), to stay off the Trail, and the NPS office administering the Trail closed all shelters and privies it manages. The ATC coordinated the planning and construction of the Trail and is currently responsible for managing and protecting it. The maintaining clubs of volunteers built the Trail and are currently responsible for the day-to-day management and maintenance of the footpath. The administration of the Trail statutorily belongs to the Secretary of the Interior.
The unprecedented request from the ATC and clubs comes on the heels of a surge in visitor use despite multiple social-distancing guidance issued by state and local governments. The Trail, which spans 14 states and passes through 88 counties, is within a day’s drive for half of the U.S. population. Crowding at iconic and well-known A.T. locations — such as Blood Mountain in Georgia., McAfee Knob in Virginia, and Annapolis Rocks in Maryland — became unsafe as many believed they could avoid COVID-19 by journeying to public lands. As the ATC and clubs explained in their closure request to the federal government, the threat to government and ATC/club employees, other visitors and residents of gateway communities along the trail was heightened, rather than lowered, by the Trail remaining officially open.
“Since its creation in 1925, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has always promoted the benefits of experiencing nature and hiking, both physically and mentally,” said Sandra Marra, President and CEO of the ATC. “However, the past few weeks have shown that the A.T. is no longer a place where effective social distancing can take place, and that drastic action must be taken to help limit the spread of this highly contagious virus both on and off the Trail.”
Several National Park Service units the Trail passes through have already closed as of the sending of the letter. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed all facilities and hiking trails, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park and Delaware Gap National Recreation Area have closed all buildings to the public. Shenandoah National Park is closed to all camping and is also seeking approval to close completely. Six of the eight national forests the Trail passes through had also closed their connecting Trails to the A.T. prior to the request, effectively removing access. The ATC’s guidance during this time is for trail users to stay at home and wait for it to be safe to no longer be socially distant, even in the great outdoors.
For more information on the guidance issued by the ATC and current park and business closures along 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.