Appalachian Trail Conservancy

SidehillBeth Critton and Bob Proudman
Tagging - A Pernicious Trend

By Bob Proudman and Beth Critton

According to Wikipedia, graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire. But graffiti on the A.T. is a relatively new—and frustrating—problem.
A.T.-maintaining clubs and Appalachian Trail Communities have both reported increasing vandalism in the form of “tagging” (signing names, initials, symbols) along the A.T. ATC received at least a dozen reports in both 2013 and 2014 of long-distance hikers using the ubiquitous and easily carried Sharpie pens to deface A.T. shelters, signs, and bridges.
 Icewater Springs Shelter graffiti
NPS and USFS law-enforcement officers (LEOs), working closely with club maintainers to track particular violators, have issued citations to very few people, a challenge because either the LEO has to catch someone in the act, or the graffiti has to be documented and positively identified with an individual. Also, by the time a report is received, the hiker has moved on to another location, often in another jurisdiction. Punishments can be significant with multi-thousand dollar fines, imprisonment, probation or all three; however, in remote areas like the A.T., it’s a low-risk enterprise.
Spray paint on Hawk Rock
Vandals using spray paint, often younger local residents, have targeted rocks and ledges at scenic overlooks along the A.T. The Trail has recently suffered extreme cases in the Mid-Atlantic region and along the Housatonic River in Connecticut. Even an icon as historically significant as Jefferson Rock (named for Thomas Jefferson who admired the view from it in 1783) in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has not been immune (
ATC, the clubs, and A.T. Communities have long opposed and worked to mitigate this type of vandalism. In 1984, the ATC Board adopted a policy, which states: “The Appalachian Trail and the lands it traverses should remain completely free of litter, refuse, and graffiti along its entire length…” The Conservancy has sought to maintain that high standard ever since. But it’s not easy to catch the miscreants, and cleaning graffiti up is a lot of work.
Unfortunately, some do not see graffiti as vandalism, but accept it as personal expression. The ability to post photos quickly and share on social media may reinforce this attitude. However, responding quickly to graffiti is a key element of prevention and mitigation. Speedy and consistent clean-up often deters vandals from returning or reduces the likelihood that others will add their tags, which may reduce the trend over the long-term.
On a positive note, some long-distance hikers are reporting individual graffitists who they see in the act or whose work they repeatedly encounter, and have even posted negative comments online where the vandals have proudly touted their work. That is a trend we should encourage.

Beth Critton is Chair of the Stewardship Council
Bob Proudman is Director of Conservation Operations

Hawk Rock Clean-up
Hawk Rock photos are from

A successful clean-up of Hawk Rock in PA was implemented recently in a collaborative effort between the Duncannon A.T. Community (, the Mountain Club of Maryland (MCM), the Susquehanna A.T. Club, and other community groups and volunteers.
At the fall Mid-Atlantic Regional Partnership Committee meeting, the MCM described the effectiveness of an anti-graffiti product with the memorable name of “Elephant Snot.” The painted rock surface is coated with the product, which is then left in place for 30-40 minutes. Copious amounts of water are then required to rinse off the surface.
Thanks to a brigade of volunteers who toted water jugs and worked to remove the graffiti (and also picked up and removed trash from the area) Hawk Rock is the cleanest it’s been in years.
See photos of their work, as well as photos showing graffiti on the rock outcropping over several years, at

Boundary Blurb 

Dave Pirog (second from right) stands with Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association volunteers at the close of a volunteer work day just south of North Adams, MA in October. Photograph by Silvia Cassano
ATC’s southern New England Trail Management Assistant Silvia Cassano just completed her second season with ATC, working on the A.T. boundary as well as on Trail management and natural-resource monitoring.
She assisted AMC-Connecticut A.T. Committee volunteers with maintenance of the most overgrown, steep, and inaccessible boundary lines in Connecticut. In addition to the many miles of exterior corridor boundary line that she helped the club rehabilitate throughout her six-month season, she also assisted in monitoring 14 easement tracts, identified and reported 10 new encroachments, and found five monuments that club members had not been able to locate previously.
Silvia also worked on tough boundary lines in Massachusetts. In a region as broad as New England, it has been a huge boost to club programs to have a staff person dedicated to corridor stewardship in those two states.
In 2015, ATC looks forward to having a Trail management assistant for eight months, as well as a short term (6-8 weeks) boundary technician, to continue the work that Silvia and volunteers Henry Edmonds, Dave Pirog, and many others have started.
Alison Scheiderer
Land Protection Associate
ATC New England Regional Office

Prompt Reporting

Stopping a "moving incident," such as a hiker tagging shelters while thru-hiking the A.T. is difficult, but prompt reporting and removing graffiti after it's been documented and reported can help reduce the vandalism.

Frequent visits to shelters and popular overlooks, engaging hikers in conversation, and posting updates in shelter registers lets Trail users know that an area is cared for by local volunteers.

Graffiti and other vandalism in shelters and elsewhere along the Trail can be reported to ATC using the address. It should also be reported to the land-managing agency. (Messages to the incident email are automatically distributed to the NPS-ANST chief ranger.)

Take pictures to document the vandalism and include them with the report, if possible. Talk to hikers who may have seen someone in the act. Checking shelter registers may help determine when the graffiti or was posted or match a “tag” to an individual.

Prompt Removal

Those who deal with graffiti, whether in urban areas or the backcountry, agree that prompt removal discourages additional defacement.

While this provides a clean "canvas" for new graffiti, not removing it makes others more likely to add their own tags and may give the impression that it is an acceptable tradition.

Painting over graffiti may be the best solution in shelters or on other wooden or man-made surfaces, but check with your agency partner or ATC regional office.

It is probably not possible to completely remove painted graffiti from natural stone, with its uneven and sometimes porous surfaces, as well as cracks, crevices, lichen, etc. And, the longer paint remains on a surface, the more difficult it is likely to be to remove.

A product known as Elephant SnotTM is described as an eco-friendly remover for paint and other substances on porous surfaces, including natural stone. It is a thick gel that cleans up with water and can be used in a wide range of temperatures.

Please check with your agency partner for their recommendations on products to remove graffiti. Be sure to read and follow the information provided on the Material Safety Data Sheet for any product.

Hiking through History
2015 ATC Biennial 

The 2015 Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Biennial Conference, "Hiking through History," cohosted by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Mountain Club of Maryland will be held July 17-24, 2015 at the campus of Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. (Click here to view a video.)

We are seeking volunteers to help with leading hikes and excursions, to help with registration, and many other needs. If you are interested in volunteering, please complete and return this form.

Volunteer Recognition

A variety of recognition items based on hours of volunteer service are available from ATC and the National Park Service. For information and an order form that includes guidelines for volunteer pins, patches, caps, and vests, go to our Volunteer Management page in the Volunteer Toolkit.
Do You Work with Volunteers? 
Check out ATC's Volunteer Toolkit for advice on recruiting, working with, and recognizing A.T. volunteers.  

Just click on the Volunteer Management button on the toolkit page 

Subscribe to The Register

First published in April 1978, The Register is intended for Appalachian Trail volunteers, their agency partners, and others interested in the stewardship of the Trail. 

Subscribe to The Register (and other ATC newsletters) at  or send a message to with "subscribe" in the subject line and with your first and last name and e-mail address in the body of the message. 

Please forward this issue or provide this information to anyone who might be interested in subscribing. 

Volunteer of the Month

Bulls Bridge Task Force volunteers led by Ray Bracone have played a big role in turning the tide of misuse and degradation in the Bulls Bridge area in Kent, CT, contributing more than 1,500 hours to the effort this year alone.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, Ray operated heavy equipment during recovery efforts at Ground Zero. A lifelong hiker, he found the peaceful and scenic Bulls Bridge area along the Housatonic River to be a place to clear his head and decompress from that difficult work.

(Read more about Ray and the Bulls Bridge Task Force here)

2015 ATC Meetings

New England Regional Partnership Committee
Date/Location TBD

Mid-Atlantic Regional Partnership Committee
March 20–21
Bowmanstown, PA

Southern Partnership Meeting
March 2729
Arden, NC

ATC Stewardship Council
May 7
Shepherdstown, WV

ATC Board of Directors
May 89
Shepherdstown, WV

ATC Biennial Conference
July 17–24
Winchester, VA
The Register  is published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for the volunteers of the Appalachian Trail, their agency partners, and others interested in the stewardship of the Trail.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy mission is to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trailensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come. To become a member, volunteer, or learn more, visit
Our mailing address is:
ATC Headquarters
799 Washington St, PO Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

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