ATC Ramps Up Visitor Use Management
By Bob Proudman and Beth Critton
We anticipate that 2016 may be the busiest hiking season in Appalachian Trail history, due to the movie A Walk in the Woods
released last September and other dynamics. We want to review with you—the managers and maintainers of the Trail—some existing and newer strategies for accommodating visitation to the A.T. while minimizing damage to resources and the A.T. hiking experience. Most of these are joint programs of ATC, NPS, the Forest Service, and state agencies. A number of these programs and issues will be reviewed at next month’s Regional Partnership Committee meetings.
These and related initiatives recruit and educate hikers as practitioners of Leave No Trace, while some are designed to reduce resource impacts with sites that resist user-created expansion, crowding, and avoid damaging “peak-loads” by providing tools that allow hikers to spread themselves out in space and time.
Ridgerunners and Caretakers
—ATC aids clubs and agencies along the A.T. to recruit approximately 40 trained and motivated
seasonal employees each season. These backcountry personnel patrol the A.T., protect and maintain backcountry campsites during peak use times, and aid and educate hikers. We will have additional ridgerunners/caretakers and agency personnel this year in Georgia and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Voluntary Thru-Hiker Registration and Alternate Itineraries
—ATC began voluntary thru-hiker registration in 2015 to reach hikers before their hike, to educate them to be better prepared, to spread out starting dates for northbounders, and to advocate for alternate itineraries. The data can be seen here
. For more information, go to http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/thru-hiking
. In 2016, we are using a versatile online system that we call A.T.Camp (for “Appalachian Trail camping allocation management process”) that will be tailored to local situations. In Georgia, for example, it will allocate camping in eleven zones from Amicalola Falls State Park to the GA/NC line. Thru-hikers, section hikers, and groups will have unique registrations.
Voluntary Organized Group Registration
—For more than a decade in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, Trail clubs have worked with ATC and organized groups to make pretrip itinerary notifications to use specific overnight sites. This essentially matches the number of overnight groups to site capacity in order to minimize site impacts and to help ensure high-quality camping experiences. It has achieved more than 80 percent voluntary compliance. The Green and White Mountain National Forests both issue overnight group camping permits based on this voluntary compliance. For an overview, see the recently published Organized Group Management Manual - First Edition
(posted January 2016). See also ATC’s Policy on Organized Group Use
The online campsite registration system (A.T.Camp) described above under “Thru-Hiker Registration” could be adaptable to any location on the Trail.
Protecting the A.T. Hiking Experience
—A task team led by Southern Regional Director Morgan Sommerville with members from the southern clubs, ATC staff and Stewardship Council members, and the Forest Service, has been working to implement recommendations from a visitor management study conducted last year. Managers measure impacts in different management zones and then develop specific responses. In Georgia, the volume of people accessing the Trail during peak start time for thru-hikers in March and April and the physical evidence of their presence now contradict what the plaque on Springer Mountain says about the A.T., “For those who seek fellowship with the Wilderness.”
Morgan reports that a major project in Georgia to reduce the number of campers at the Hawk Mountain Shelter by creating a new sidehill campsite nearby is nearing completion
The Chattahoochee National Forest supervisor signed a volunteer agreement creating the Georgia Appalachian Trail Trail Ambassadors, a program developed by the Georgia A.T. Club. Trained volunteers will patrol an area and teach sustainable backcountry techniques and Leave No Trace practices to hikers, augmenting the role of paid ridgerunners and caretakers. Other clubs are forming their own Trail Ambassador programs further north.
ATC Stewardship Council Initiatives
—The Trail and Camping Committee (TCC), chaired by Cosmo Catalano of the AMC Berkshire Chapter's A.T. Committee, is working with ATC, NPS, and USFS representatives on a host of new initiatives. At this spring’s Regional Partnership Committee meetings, drafts of three of those will be shared for club and agency review: “A.T. Camping Management Options,” by TCC member and USGS recreation ecologist Jeff Marion; a draft hazard tree policy, and “Animal Deterrent Systems,” summarizing the best food-storage techniques to mitigate problems with bears and other animals attracted to food at overnight sites along the Trail.
Leave No Trace
efforts have been expanded, thanks to TCC member Tom Banks. Seven videos, one for each of the Leave No Trace principles are posted at www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/leave-no-trace
. Brief, entertaining "Don't be That Guy" videos showing an unprepared A.T. hiker learning from others can be found on the Appalachian Trail Leave No Trace Facebook page
. ATC is offering Leave No Trace Master Educator courses this year and anticipates working with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to produce an on-line awareness course specific to A.T. hiking and camping.
With new growth in day hiking, backpacking and thru-hiking, these and similar programs strive to promote backcountry values to protect our parks and forests, keeping the A.T. natural and primitive while appropriately accommodating A.T. hikers and campers.
(We want to thank Cosmo Catalano, Hawk Metheny, and Morgan Sommerville for their contributions to this article.)
Beth Critton is Chair of the Stewardship Council
Bob Proudman is now an ATC consultant contributing to The Register.
Wavyleaf Basket Grass
Wavyleaf basketgrass is a rapidly spreading invasive plant that invades forest understories It is capable of quickly outcompeting native plants to become the dominate understory species, leading to altered habitats, a loss of biodiversity, and a reduction in pollinator populations.
It has begun to appear in natural areas in Maryland and Northern Virginia. We are currently in a position where we can prevent this species from becoming widespread if we remain vigilant and act quickly.
Click on the image above to learn how you can help.
Hiker Education Accreditation
ATC has developed an accreditation program intended to make sure hikers are as well-equipped and well-informed as possible to enjoy and protect the Trail.
The program allows ATC to recognize individuals who offer courses on hiking the A.T. as experts on the subject, allowing people who take the courses to have a high level of confidence that their curriculum content meets specific minimum requirements. Anyone interested in applying to be accredited should contact email@example.com for an application.