“The Times They Are A-Changin.”
When Bob Dylan wrote that song in 1963 the Country was already being rocked with protests and demonstrations. Prophetically, much more violent change would become common. The times were truly “a-changin.” As history has taught us, change is never easy or popular.
The fact is, change is coming for GATC and the entire trail maintaining community. We are being pressured to modify how we envision our mission to protect, manage, and maintain the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. Our Club is rightfully proud of the Trail that we maintain. And naturally, we have extended the call to one and all to come share the experience of hiking and camping on the AT. The public has responded. The number of users, including thru-hikers, section hikers, and day hikers, has increased year after year. There is evidence that this increase in the number of hikers, coupled with the fact that many hikers do not practice “Leave No Trace” principles, is causing the Trail to deteriorate. One sign of this deterioration is the Hawk Mtn. Campsite. The area around the shelter is bare ground with little vegetation. David Stelts is leading our project to build a new campsite with privy in an attempt to mitigate the damage already present at the current campsite.
GATC is being asked to become more proactive in our protection of the AT. At the Fall 2015 meeting of the Appalachian Trial Conservancy (ATC) Southern Regional Partnership Committee (SORO), Morgan Summerville, SORO Regional Director, reported on “The National Trails System Act,” as amended in 1984 and 2009. Specifically, he pointed out a specific portion of that Federal law which required the development of “a comprehensive plan for the acquisition, management, development, and use of the trail including but not limited to…an identified carrying capacity (bold print added by me for emphasis) of the trail and a plan for its implementation.” [Source: The National Trails System Act] Implementation of such a plan will, most likely, call for ways to limit the number of hikers on the Trail at any given time.
When I first heard of limiting the number of hikers to comply with some “carrying capacity,” I was disturbed. It just didn’t sound right. But I believe we must face the facts. The Appalachian Trail is being damaged by overuse and abuse. As the caretakers of the AT in Georgia, we are responsible for developing a plan to mitigate the problem. And Morgan has assured the RPC members that the development of the carrying capacity will take place. I believe GATC must participate in this process or it will be done without us.
How will this carrying capacity be determined? I am not sure. In Georgia, it will probably be calculated according to the five zones of the GA AT established in a new document jointly developed by GATC, ATC, and the US Forest Service, Visitor Use Management Planning For The Appalachian Trail In Georgia. Further information about this document will be published in future articles in The Mountaineer. Do you have any ideas? I invite any member who is interested to be involved in this discussion. The best plan is one that we develop together.
Don Hicks, GATC President