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AT Overuse - my .02c

[[[ I have been a lurker on this list most of the time.  I'm still eight years from retirement and that will be the first time that I'll have a chance to thruhike the AT.  Let me tell you, I'm really looking forward to that time!  I've completed most of the longer trails in WV and am starting the Kentucky trails. ]]]

(Jim and Jay's discussion follow my thoughts)

I don't want to get into the AT extensions bit but, I do want to coment on and question some of the side issues that would affect me very much that Jim expressed in his comments to Jay.  Those issues are in the area of permits, shelter overuse and the number of people on the trail.  One of the things that got me hooked on hiking and backpacking in the first place was the opportunity for some semblence of solitude and the beauty of everything in and around the wilderness areas.

Early on (1978-1993), some of the thruhiker journals talk about stopping at streams and rivers and directly filling their water containers.  No talk of the need for purifying water.  How far to go in a day was based upon food needs and blisters.  Now it's how far to the proper shelter.  And there were many mentions of picking blueberries and blackberries along the trail.  Now, a major consideration is how to purify water, taming the stinging nettles, never a mention of berries and complaining because a shelter is full or in rotten shape.

WHEN I thruhike the AT I want all of the trails to be pristine.  No trash.  Quiet except for the many wild animals that would cross my path.  Some good conversation at dinner.  Then, pleasant sleep without others caughing, sniffling and otherwise making bodily noises.  Can I expect that much?  Yea! Right!

However, I would like to be able to expect a reasonable walk about with a fair amount of solitude, relatively clean camps and trails and room enough to pitch a tent.  Some of your comments make me believe that even that much may not happen by the turn of the century.  

Do you really believe that a lot of the damage on the trails is coming from thruhikers using the AT to death?  Are their fewer and fewer places to pitch a tent because of thruhiker overuse and, therefore, must one stay in a shelter?  Are the shelters getting run down?  If so, why?  Do you think it's coming from thruhikers, "kids" or day hikers?  

On my short trips around the AT [as a day hiker :( ], most of the people I saw were like myself, day hikers.  I feel the same can be said for the trash and overuse of many areas.  Most of the trash that I see on the trails look like they come from day hikers or partiers and not serious hikers.  I truely believe that most thruhikers carry out what they bring in.  Am I wrong?  

In all of my readings about the AT, it seems that any given area of the trail is only used heavily for about a three-four week period twice a year by thruhikers.  Once for the Ga->Me hikers and once for the Me->Ga hikers.  It would seem that, if the trail is getting overused and abused, it would have to come from some other hiking groups.  Possibly, day hikers, Boy Scouts (I sure hope not!) or partiers?  Further, in reading the "Appalachian Adventure" and their hike of '95, I did not get the feeling from their writings that the trail was in a serious overuse condition.  What's the actual facts from someone else's perspective.

About permits.  I don't think it will happen!  It was my understanding that one often had to get permits to camp in state/federal parks (but not to hike through).  I wouldn't mind having to buy a permit as long as I wouldn't have to get into a lottery to get the priviledge of paying for a permit.  I would expect that the permit would be so that day hikers would think twice before using and abusing trails and not as a stated thruhiker limiting policy.  I would even be willing for the permit to state the day/week in which I would have to start if it were to limit the number of thruhikers congregating at the start and for the first few miles.

I don't think a permit system is in the cards for the AT.  First, I'll bet the ATC personnel are just as rabid of individuals as most people and couples that complete the thruhike.  Second, how would it be enforced?  A bunch of AT policemen?  Third, I would fight against the permit option until all other options were fully explored.  I like the idea of the AT being kept up by volunteers that do it because it's there.

Finished venting!  Pipes are clear!
Jeff McClintick
Jim says:
      .... On the other hand, the AT is literally being "loved to death".
And used to death.

The "loving" part comes largely from the people who maintain and
constantly "improve" the trail.  They build bigger,  better, fancier
shelters, add more services, put in more switchbacks, etc.  And the
more they improve, the further behind they get, because every time
the AT "improves" 1%, the number of thruhikers increases 10%.
I'm not sure how much more "improvement" the trail can stand.

The "used to death" part is simply due to the increasing numbers of
thruhikers.   Take a look at the Kushman's trail log that Kathy Bilton
is putting up here.   Four years ago I left on March 16th and I *never*
saw the numbers of thruhikers that they ran into in their first week.
I stayed in just three shelters that were full before Damascus - and only
one of those was so full that anyone had to sleep outside.  The Kushmans
left on March 2 and are already running into overfull shelters.   How
many people will be out there 5 years from now?

I'm not complaining about the maintainers - or about the numbers of
thruhikers.   But this has already led to a situation where the ATC
is becoming a "Trail management" organization.   I'm not gonna chase
this any further.  Enough to say that at some point in the future, you
may have to get a thruhiker "permit" in order to walk the AT.   I don't
like that.

The solution?  I don't know, but I'd personally like to see the AT head
in a different direction.  Possibly, the cessation of shelter building
and maintenance.   Elimination of the shelter system would also help
with other Trail problems - as I recall, all 7 of the murders on the AT
have occurred at shelters,  there's been an increasing number of
homeless taking up residence in shelters over the last few years,
the shelters are the places where"shelter parties" take place and if
there were no shelters, presumably, less people would start the Trail.
Maybe making the AT a little longer would also help keep the numbers

I'm not overly enthusiastic about these as solutions - but I know that
if the Trail community doesn't solve the problems, the government
will - and we won't like their solutions.   Anyone else have any ideas??

As I said - ambivalence.

>So, I hope I have answered some of your questions.  Who knows, maybe by
>the year 2000, our spur will become reality, and with God's help will
>indeed become AT.

Yes, you did answer some questions, Jay.  Not all of them, but at
least it's a start.  Thank you.

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