It is hard for me to believe that this year is almost over. I think it has been an incredible twelve months. I am so proud to represent GATC as President. You guys really make me look good. In every meeting that I attend people comment about what a great job we do in maintaining, protecting and promoting the AT. All of us, together with our partners in the Forest Service and the ATC, have accomplished so much.
We began the year with dreadful anticipation of a big increase in hikers due to the release of the movie, “A Walk in the Woods.” The Hawk Mtn. campsite was the focus of our concern. The solution was to build new tent pads and a privy. Everyone agreed that the plan was a good one but there was just not enough time to complete the site before the thru-hiker mob began on March 1st. David Stelts, who has led our Structures Committees for many years, agreed that there was not enough time but took on the challenge nevertheless. David issued a call for volunteers and the response was tremendous. Local college groups volunteered. Several District Supervisors gave up their 3rd Saturday worktrips to allow the Club to conduct more workdays on the project. The US Army Rangers came to our aid and hauled in the privy lumber and the food boxes. It rained hard and the site got really muddy but the work continued. And on the last weekend before March 1st, GATC had the privy fully functional and the thirty side-hill tent pads ready for campers.
One of the most damaging aspects of the thruhiker rush in Georgia is that so many hikers are inexperienced. They have heard about our wonderful Trail and they want to experience it. They know little, if anything, about “Leave No Trace.” They purchase some cheap hiking gear and head to Springer Mountain or Amicalola Falls State Park. They pack the shelters. Overseers spend a lot of time and effort picking up trash for these newbies. The challenge is how to educate them. Our own Jay Dement came up with an idea -- Trail Ambassadors on the Georgia AT. Everyone was not 100% in favor of this plan. Now, to some Jay may seem simply stubborn. I view him as charmingly persistent. He got the support of the Forest Service and The Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Jay issued the call for volunteers and arranged extensive training. The newly trained Trail Ambassadors along with additional ridgerunners and caretakers were able to make a huge difference by being present with the hikers along the Trail, especially at the new Hawk Mountain Campsite. Several thruhikers who made it all the way to Maine wrote back thanking GATC for providing such wonderful assistance at a time when they were just starting on their journey.
Another significant event occurred this year. A task force for visitor use management came to be known as PATHE (Protecting the AT Hiking Experience). By the way, it is pronounced “path.” This group, composed of individuals from GATC, SORO and the Forest Service, have set about to change the way we view our joint responsibilities in protecting and promoting the AT in Georgia. It is pretty much accepted by the group that we must do more than pick up the trash left behind by hikers and clean out the privies. Somehow, the ever increasing number of hikers must be managed. No perfect solution has been discovered but several possible ones are being considered. This is a new challenge for GATC that may require a bending of the minds to move forward. I am proud that this task force has accomplished so much but I know that the coming year will bring great challenges in this area.
And finally, but certainly not least, let us celebrate the fact that GATC volunteers contributed over 21,000 hours to our mission of maintaining and protecting the AT. This was an incredible achievement for this Club in 2016. And looking over the data, I see that it was not just a few individual volunteers who put in the work. It took hundreds of volunteers. I am continually amazed and so proud of what we have accomplished together this year. Let us all give everyone a round of applause. But don’t rest too long in the celebration. There is much, much more to do in 2017.
Submitted by: Don Hicks, GATC President