Water Sources on the A.T.
By Bob Proudman and Beth Critton
Nearly every August, conditions become drier and drier along the A.T., leading to water-resupply issues for hikers, particularly in the mid-states and southern New England. This information is currently posted on ATC’s Trail Conditions webpage:
“A regional drought in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions is exacerbating normal seasonal droughts. Please treat water sources listed in your guidebook as 'seasonal' or 'intermittent' as dry. Bring extra water receptacles for these areas and top them off when water is available!”
Since it was conceived and constructed more than 75 years ago, the Appalachian Trail has relied on various water sources for hikers, including undeveloped springs, springs that are nominally improved, streams, rivers, and other open-water sources. Hikers expect that water will be available at reasonable intervals along the Trail (including locations within reasonable walking distance of overnight facilities) and that water sources will be adequately identified.
ATC has long obligated itself and the A.T. maintaining clubs to mark adequate water supplies: “The Appalachian Trail shall be continuously and neatly marked using standard techniques in such a manner that the hiker unfamiliar with the area can discern the direction of the route and the location of drinking water and facilities.” (Appalachian Trail Design, Construction, and Maintenance
, Second edition, 2000).
For many years, ATC policy has required identification of water supplies for hikers and encouraged protection of existing water supplies by careful location and design of trails and sanitation facilities (see Drinking Water 1993
The policy states that ATC does not and cannot guarantee water quality from any source along the Trail, that all water sources should be considered unprotected, and that water from these sources should be boiled, filtered, or chemically treated before use. This warning is stipulated in every A.T. Guidebook
, on posted signs, and on the website.
ATC and local Trail clubs have seven “water systems” as defined by the EPA and the U.S. Public Health Service (see" What's a Water System" at right). A simple pipe placed in a stream to aid in collecting water, for example, is not considered a “system.”
ATC oversees water testing and any required treatments to meet drinking water standards at the ATC-run Scott Farm (Pennsylvania), at the Shenandoah Campsite, Ralph Peak Hikers Cabin, Morgan Stewart and Wiley shelter sites in New York, and at Ten Mile River Shelter and campsite and Silver Hill campsite in Connecticut. Quarterly testing for coliforms (intestinal bacteria from mammals) is required at those locations, as are other mitigation measures to ensure meeting drinking water standards.
Due to the high standard requirements, ATC declared a moratorium on new water systems in 1993. However, that position may need to be reconsidered in the future, as the weather becomes drier and water availability decreases Trailwide—as forecast by climate scientists.
We welcome your insights, comments, and questions.
Beth Critton is Chair of the Stewardship Council
Bob Proudman is now an ATC consultant contributing to The Register
ATC has launched a new resource: The Register Blog
will remain an e-newsletter publication, supplemented by the blog. The blog will include modern videos of best practices, highlights of moments in Trail-building history, social media and news updates from the Trail clubs, and opportunities for discussion.
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A.T. Crossings in Vermont
Along the A.T. corridor in Vermont, a hiker may encounter two-hundred-year-old carriage roads that are still on town maps or even snowmobile trails permitted by the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF), the land-managing agency.
Adam Fryska collecting trail data (photo by Garrett Fondoules)
Corridor monitors come across these trails while hiking the Trail and maintaining the boundary, but have had limited tools to determine what the trails are—and whether they are supposed to be there. So, ATC Boundary Technicians Garrett Fondoules and Adam Fryska spent two months this summer mapping all crossings of the Trail and connecting trail networks within the A.T. corridor in Vermont.
In the 67 miles that they hiked south from Norwich to VT Route 140, they collected accurate spatial information on the locations of 152 separate trails using Trimble GPS units. They recorded as much as they could determine about each trail, describing width, any signage, and who and what is using or could potentially use it.
This information and the map that they made will help ATC’s New England corridor stewardship program determine which trails are encroachments and then to work with the Green Mountain Club and GMNF to address them.
Thanks to Garrett and Adam for a successful project that helps to safeguard the A.T. corridor.
Land Protection Associate
ATC New England Regional Office