By the time you read this many of you will have, most likely, engaged in one of my most dreaded tasks -- raking leaves. My lack of enthusiasm for raking leaves may be partly due to my exposure to the job growing up. My mother was somewhat of a neat nick. She applied her high ideals for cleaning the house to the yard as well. Of course, she never raked leaves herself. That was a job for the four children and I was the second oldest in that line. Wherever we lived in Decatur we always seemed to have a lot of trees that produced a lot of leaves that fell on the yard. I used to try to reason with my Mom to convince her that it would be best to wait until all the leaves had fallen before raking them up. She never bought it. She insisted that we rake them as they fell. Almost every Saturday in the fall my brother and I had to waste valuable weekend time to get the leaves off the yard. Nowadays, I usually wait until all the leaves have fallen before I attempt to rake them up. Mother may have been right. Today I use a big backpack blower and even with that extra power it is harder to move the leaves when they are piled up thick and usually wet. Still, I dread the task and wait until I can find no other excuse for putting it off.
There is another task that I dread and it is related to a subject that is dear to my heart and, I am sure, to yours as well -- the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. The task is how to protect the AT from overuse and abuse. When I first heard the idea of restricting use of the Trail I thought, “NO WAY!” Over the years, GATC has spent a great deal of time and effort promoting the AT in Georgia as one of the best places to hike anywhere. It’s true that having a beautiful National Forest within a two hour drive of where several million people live contributes to the growing numbers of hikers on the Trail. But, it is a fact that people come from all over the country to hike on the AT in Georgia. We have done an excellent job of maintaining the Trail and we have also done a good job telling others what a wonderful experience it is to hike here. The problem is that too many people hike here at the same time. All of us are very well aware that in March and April every year hikers show up in huge numbers to begin a thru-hike to Maine. Also, it is in March that many college students are out for Spring break and many of those choose to hike the Trail during their break from classes. It is also true that in Georgia, March usually brings those first nice weekends after the cold winter and people who would not think about camping in cold weather decide to shake off their winter doldrums with an early spring hike.
All of this forces an issue upon us. This is the issue that, like raking leaves, I would rather avoid. There are simply too many people hiking the AT in Georgia in March and April every year. As much as I am disinclined to even think about it, there is a natural “carrying capacity” of the Trail. There are just so many sustainable spots to put up a tent or hammock to spend the night in the woods. There is a limit to how many people can hike up the same section of trail at the same time before a hiker gets the feeling that they are walking up a busy sidewalk in Atlanta. And though we are in the process of planning more camping spots there is a limit to how many we can build without diminishing the wilderness experience that draws those crowds to hike here in the first place.
As I have repeatedly stated here, I would rather not have to think about this. I would much rather wait until someone else is GATC President and let her or him deal with this issue. But decisions are being made now. The officers and staff of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest have already scheduled a series of work sessions with the community to develop a plan for sustainable use of the Forest. http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/conf/home/?cid=FSEPRD501290
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is already studying the issue. The ATC Southern Region (SORO) has been working with GATC for over a year to develop a plan to address the issue in Georgia. A document has been drafted detailing a strategy and tactics to hopefully begin to solve some of the problems we already face. (Visitor Use Management Planning For the Appalachian Trail in Georgia) The plan detailed in that document is already being implemented.
Do you have an idea to help us solve this pressing issue? Then please come share it with us. Are you concerned about this but you don’t have any ready ideas to provide a solution? Come join us as we struggle with this together. Are you not really sure what the problem is? Then come learn with us. The leaves are falling and my Mother may have been right. We shouldn’t wait too long to begin raking them up.
Submitted by: Don Hicks, GATC President