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May 2017

I began this year with a series of articles about visitor use management. I believe this will be our emphasis for the near future. This should in no way discount the role that we perform in trail maintenance. There will always be a critical need to maintain the trail and that is a role that we have always done in an exceptional manner. However, the ever increasing number of hikers on the Trail and the never ending ignorance of good hiking ethics by those hikers call for a different approach.

Take, for example, trash left behind in the shelters and on the trail. The first option, our traditional approach, is to have our overseers carry out trash every time they visit their sections. That option is always ongoing as there will always be new trash left by hikers who don’t know any better or who don’t care. The second option is to send volunteers out on the trail to educate hikers about good backpacking ethics. The hikers who don’t know any better can be taught the importance of picking up after themselves. The hikers who don’t care can perhaps be encouraged to change their attitude. The second option is much more sustainable. Of course, there will always be trash but, hopefully, the amount of trash that overseers must haul out will diminish somewhat over time. Our best force for implementing the second option is the GATC Trail Ambassador program. Now in its second year of operation, led by Jay Dement, it is already showing remarkable results and promise.

In earlier articles I have repeatedly mentioned the PATHE Task Force. This is a group composed of GATC members, ATC and Forest Service staff members committed to the goal of “Protecting the AT Hiking Experience.” The first project undertaken by the group was the construction of a new campsite on Hawk Mountain. That project was started in late 2015 and was completed ready for use before the March 1st thru-hiker season began in 2016. A large factor in the success of that new campsite was the increased overnight presence of Ridgerunners and Trail Ambassadors to encourage hikers to use the new campsite and not simply crowd into the old campsite at the shelter.

So you may be wondering, “What’s Next?” “Are we done?” If you have participated in any of the PATHE meetings you know the answer is, “No, we have only just begun.” So what’s next on the agenda? A project already in the works for this year is additional sidehill tentpads at the Gooch shelter. Analysis and study of the site has been completed. Hopefully the NEPA will be completed this summer and the physical construction can begin this fall. After that, work may be done at the Low Gap shelter but exactly what that may include has not been determined.

The PATHE Task Force is also continuing the study of a possible requirement to use bear canisters on the Trail in Georgia and also the feasibility of requiring permits to camp in certain sections of the Georgia AT. But both of these studies are strictly preliminary and no decision is imminent. I believe it is important to keep an open mind as we search together for solutions.

Does this sound interesting to you? Would you like to be more involved in this process? If so, just let me know. There is always room for a few additional sharp minds on the Task Force.

Submitted by: Don Hicks