Appalachian Trail Conservancy

SidehillBeth Critton and Bob Proudman
Risk Management and the A.T.

By Beth Critton and Bob Proudman
As stewards of the Appalachian Trail, we are inherently involved in risk management—identifying, evaluating, monitoring, and (to the extent that it is possible or appropriate) limiting risk to Trail users, including ourselves. ATC and its maintaining clubs have historically adjusted, and continue to adjust, Trail management and the Trail itself based on perceived risks to hikers and other Trail users. 

For example, in the 1970s, A.T. hikers in southern Maine would leave the “green tunnel” of Mahoosuc Notch to find themselves in the sunlit playground of Notch II, a beautiful flume of rocks and ledges. Hikers loved to take their boots off and play in the flume. The problem? Because the ledges got gradually steeper, people playing in the river would slip and slide down the ledges. Several falls resulted in severe injuries with epic rescues—maneuvering a Stokes litter through Mahoosuc Notch or carrying it down Mahoosuc Arm from Speck Pond, about a 1,500 foot descent in just one mile, followed by a helicopter lift to a waiting ambulance. The maintaining club ultimately decided to relocate the A.T. upstream and away from the flume.

Another change to the Trail as a response to risk is the Kennebec River ferry. Hikers would ford the 700-foot Kennebec River at Caratunk, Maine, where water flow varies suddenly because of upstream dam releases. In 1985, a thru-hiker was swept away and drowned. ATC almost immediately implemented a free (to A.T. hikers) ferry service, which continues to this day at a current cost of $30,000 per year. The ferry is recognized as the official route of the A.T.

In 2011, after Tropical Storm Irene heavily impacted Vermont, large swaths of the Green Mountain National Forest—including portions of the A.T.—were temporarily closed because of damage to bridges and roads. 

There are hundreds (possibly thousands) of other examples—most far less dramatic—where the Trail has been moved to safer locations as a result of “close calls” and perceived hazards.

The Trail will continue to be shaped by the perception of risk, by hikers bushwhacking and creating side trails through the woods to avoid slippery rock faces, and by ATC and the maintaining clubs and agencies responding to reports of injuries and complaints of dangerous conditions. But the issue of what risks can and should be managed on the A.T. is complex. Effective risk management requires a consideration of context and purpose. One of the preeminent purposes of the Trail is to be a sometimes wild and unengineered place where individuals challenge themselves to identify, avoid, and overcome risks. 

What is appropriate risk management in a remote area traversed by experienced hikers is likely to differ from what is appropriate in a heavy-use area teeming with tourists in flip-flops. One of our tasks as stewards of the A.T. is to exercise wise discretion to identify what risks can and should be “managed,” and which, as essential parts of the Trail experience, should not.

A thoughtful consideration of risk is Cosmo Catalano’s editorial regarding a 2013 death near the A.T. in Massachusetts (see "Death on the Trail," below). Cosmo is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Berkshire AMC A.T. Management Committee and the New England Regional Partnership Committee representative to ATC’s Stewardship Council. 

A wealth of information about personal safety and health on the Trail can be found on both the ATC and NPS-Appalachian National Scenic Trail websites:
Health and Safety: 

Safety Tips:

Safety Tips for Fording Streams and Rivers

Frequently Asked Questions:

Your Safety:

And finally, for those of you attending the ATC Volunteer Leadership meeting in August, a workshop on risk and liability on the A.T. will be presented.

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

Death on the Trail 
By Cosmo Catalano

We had a hiker fall to his death on a side trail (which our Club maintains) to the AT this summer and there have been other fatalities elsewhere on the Trail this year that can be attributed to its physical challenges. It brought to my mind that what we do is not without risk.

Our local story (in brief) occurred when two brothers decided to hike down from Race Brook Falls campsite to “go check out the falls”. They followed the blue-blazed trail down towards the road, and at some point (most likely where the trail turns left, away from the stream) went off-trail, past a line of large boulders and a double blaze placed to direct hikers to the left, and found themselves 50 yards later at the top of the waterfall.

From here, we as trail volunteers do not know what specifically happened next—we only know that one of the hikers fell down to the bottom of the upper waterfall. Other hikers and local rescue personnel came to the scene, but were not able to save the man’s life.

(Used with permission. See the full editorial here)
Boundary Blurb 
In the 1980s, concurrent with the delegation, ATC developed "Special Care Principles" for our stewardship of public resources. They remain true and pertinent to our work in this second millennium and an update is provided below. "ATC" refers to both Appalachian Trail Conservancy and club managers.

Special Care Principles
ATC can and does, by virtue of the delegation agreement, take responsibility for guaranteeing to the National Park Service that NPS-acquired lands are being sensitively and adequately monitored and managed.
ATC can maintain the footpath and attendant structures according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's traditions, standards and guidelines.
ATC can prepare proposals to dispose property, and arrange temporary, revocable special uses, with NPS consultation.
ATC cannot give away, exchange, or sell public property such as firewood, water rights, building salvage or hunting rights.
ATC can plan major relocations according to the 1976 Relocation procedures, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws.
ATC cannot relocate the acquired Trail right of way or make unilateral, major Tail relocations, without consultation.
ATC can inform land users of state or federal laws and regulations, and can develop cooperative relationships with local law enforcement authorities.
ATC can post lands and prepare informational signs and brochures after consultation with local, state, and NPS authorities.
ATC cannot enforce state or federal laws and regulations.
ATC can and should inspect and monitor boundaries on NPS lands, consult with adjacent landowners and request an NPS survey, if needed.
ATC cannot agree to or negotiate boundaries on NPS lands or reset corner monuments to the corridor.

†This "tongue-in-cheek" notice is used in ATC risk-management workshops:

The Appalachian Trail is a dangerous place. There are poisonous snakes, bees, bears, unpredictable weather, hazard trees, rocks, roots, bumps and humps in the Trail…
[Read the full notice here ]

Disinfecting with Bleach

This letter is in response to the Norvirus Clean-up article in the May issue:

Dear Editors:

A word to the wise: If one is using bleach for disinfecting purposes, one must be wary of cheap imitations. Clorox brand is 6% sodium hypochlorite and says so right on the bottle. " Cheap" store brands are highly dilute and usually don't even mention the chlorine concentration. You end up paying good money for something that is little more than bottled water and which won't do the job in killing microbes.

I know you don't want to be in the business of endorsing any particular product, but this could have public health implications.

Pete Rentz, MD


Managing Surging Use on the A.T.

This letter is in response to the Sidehill column in the May issue:

Beth and Bob,
Thanks for your article in The Register concerning the release of the movie based on the book A Walk in the Woods. I did my thru-hike in 2000 and the increased numbers really strained the facilities.

Another problem was the lack of preparedness on the part of many hikers. Numerous hikers anticipated a stroll down main street and encountered serious physical problems early in the hike. They required assistance and there was little available. More Ridge Runners in Georgia and into southern Virginia would help.
(Read the full letter here)

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.)

If you would like to conduct a workshop or give a presentation at the  Conference, please fill out this (very short) form (PDFDOC)  and e-mail it to

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

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 Toolkit

A.T. club leaders, Trail volunteers, and others interested in Trail management will find a wealth of information at

The Volunteer Leadership Handbook found on that page provides an overview of the unique cooperative management of the Trail and describes resources and programs available to assist the Trail clubs.


2014 ATC Meetings

Volunteer Leadership Meeting
August 8-10
Shepherdstown, WV

Southern Regional Partnership Committee
October 18
Asheville, NC

Virginia Regional Partnership Committee
October 25
Location TBD

Mid-Atlantic Regional Partnership Committee
October 25
Harrisburg, PA

ATC Stewardship Council
Oct. 30-Nov. 1
Shepherdstown, WV

ATC Board of Directors
Oct. 31-Nov. 1
Shepherdstown, WV

New England Regional Partnership Committee
November 22
Crawford Notch, NH
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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