Now is the time when many hikers are planning a thru-hike of the A.T. It’s a heady experience, but I’m reminded of this newspaper article about hikers overcrowding the Appalachian Trail I’ve been hearing a lot about this in recent years and, in the south, in spring, it appears to be true. Young people like to socialize and, more than any other long-distance trail in the US, the Appalachian is the trail to meet others and make new friends.
When I thru-hiked the A.T. in 2003, it was crowded then, I thought. The shelters up to Damascus, VA were nearly always full. And many hikers, especially in Georgia and North Carolina, would set up under overhanging roofs to the sides and even in front of shelters. I can remember being in one shelter where we were packed inside like sardines. After that night, I tented, unless I was fortunate enough to arrive early and get a spot next to a wall where I could hang a few things and get a bit more privacy.
So, I can imagine how crowded it must be now. Added to this, the article tells of large gathered groups of hikers summiting Mt. Katahdin en masse, the northern terminus in Baxter State Park. The hikers stray outside the trail corridor into sensitive habitat. I’m sure this is happening on other parts of the trail. I’ve been hearing accounts of more litter simply left by hikers on the A.T. and, sadly, of larger groups drinking to excess and using recreational drugs.
I’m not sure what the answer is to this increased usage of the A.T. The article speaks to the issues and poses a few possible solutions. I’ll leave it at that.