As you read this, most of us will be in the middle of holiday celebrations. It is this time of year when we reflect on the past year and visualize the coming year. It is exciting to think about all the adventures in store for us. And GATC has many adventures and challenges coming in 2016.
First, there is the anticipated increase in hikers on the Appalachian Trail due to the release of the film, “A Walk in the Woods” in the fall of 2015. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that there might be an increase of 50 to 60% in trail use beginning this spring. Since the majority of thru-hikers begin their hike at Springer Mountain, Georgia will absorb the bulk of this increase. GATC volunteers are working hard to help minimize the impact on the Trail.
One of the areas on which we are focusing is Hawk Mountain. This shelter/privy camping area has long been overused especially during the thru-hiker season beginning in March every year. Much of the vegetation has disappeared leaving a huge bald area that is subject to erosion. The privy often fills up every spring and the Overseers are forced to make sometimes weekly visits to the facility in order to “level the pile.” At this time the Hawk Mountain privy is closed but it is hopeful that the privy can be shifted in early March and put back in operation.
Also, GATC is working with the ATC and the Forest Service to relieve the overcrowding that occurs every year at Hawk Mountain. The Forest Service has released a scoping letter that calls for a new camping area to be constructed just south of the current location including thirty side-hill tent pads and a new moldering privy. The current camping area will be closed.
The relocation of the shelter is also listed as a possibility for the future. Approval of the project is expected sometime in December 2015 and the work will begin immediately. It is hopeful that most of the new camping area can be in place by the time the thru-hikers arrive March 1, 2016. David Stelts will be the GATC liaison with the Forest Service on this project. Be watchful for David’s call for volunteers. We will need all the help we can get to jump start this ambitious plan.
In my opinion, one of the most promising efforts by GATC in mitigating the increase in hikers on the Trail is the Trail Ambassadors program being led by Jay Dement. Jay has been working on this idea for over a year and has garnered support from both the Forest Service and the ATC. This program will place GATC volunteers on the Trail overnight to serve alongside the ridge runners and caretakers. These volunteers will meet with hikers, assisting them in any way possible while also offering “Leave No Trace” principles. Some of these volunteers will be assigned to stay at Hawk Mountain in order to guide campers to the new camping area south of the shelter. Training has already begun with more planned in the coming months. Jay is already seeking volunteers to fill many open slots.
There are many other ways to serve GATC in the coming year. For example, GATC’s Community Outreach program continues to serve as a model for trail maintaining clubs up and down the AT. Volunteers are always needed to serve as hike leaders and in other positions to make this program a success. In addition, the Alternate Spring Break college students are coming. Konnarock is coming. Privies will need to be cleaned. Blowdowns will have to be cleared. There are always conservation issues to address. There are many hikes and meetings to plan. The Trail will always need our tender loving care. Whatever your interests and skills may be, there is a spot for you.
I know that 2016 is going to be a great year for GATC. Make your resolutions now to be a part of it.