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April 2018

The 2018 Thru-Hiker Season:

After many meetings and preparations the season is now upon us! Once again we are prepared for the annual onslaught of thru-hikers, weekenders and spring breakers. We have five Ridge Runners in place and a host of Trail Ambassadors on patrol to help these visitors have a better experience through sustainable backcountry techniques.

Some of the preparations included eighteen people attending two Leave No Trace Trainer Classes with ten becoming Trail Ambassadors. About thirty people attended the Wilderness First Aid class with almost that many scheduled for the next class in June. Then there was the annual Trail Ambassador class with 40 in attendance.

I am excited about our member involvement in these opportunities and the major effect we have on the trail. Our combined presence on the trial has resulted in significant improvements. This shows how great the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club is and we are getting better. And, the bigger thing is that we have conducted this training internally. I am hoping to see more club directed training in the future.

Trail Magic/Hiker Feeds:

The concept of offering free stuff to hikers in the way of food and services continues to be a hot topic. I think the historical concept has to do with the occasional and unexpectedness that seemed “magical”. Now it seems to happen all the time and becomes expected and almost an entitlement.

With more and more groups setting up at trial heads and road crossings offering free food, this become easier. I suppose people do this because it makes them feel good and they think they are giving “something back”.

This begs the question, what is the “A.T. Thru-Hiker Experience” about? From my stand point (and I have not thru-hiked) the experience should have a wilderness element and a strong component of self-reliance. I realize with the numbers of people on the trail that the “opportunities for solitude” are rather infrequent. Many young people see it more as a social experience.

It seems many of today’s hikers are unfamiliar with the Wilderness Act and all that it means. They imagine the “wilderness experience” is being in the woods with a couple of dozen new best friends. Which is almost a reality. Although, this does not have to diminish what the wilderness is all about. I think it is very important that visitors understand its importance.

Does Trail Magic so early in the hike really help hikers get ready for the long haul? While it is one thing to be helpful, does offering free food and rides to the unprepared actually help? It is through experience that one learns and appreciates the value of planning. Not that I suggest one has to spend a night cold and wet to learn, but after that equipment, planning are more thoroughly thought through.

One thing that bugs me is when I hear that providers of Hiker Feeds say they “want to give something back”. To whom are they “giving back”? They are actually paying it backwards. There is never any consideration to the volunteers who make the trial magical. Or, feeding those who are truly homeless, not young people with means who have chosen to be homeless.

One thing that is totally missing, is that all visitors to the trail need to become defenders of the trail. There are many efforts to undermine the beauty of the trail, to interrupt the view shed and dismantle the values that make it special. Imagine hiking the Appalachian Trail and passing on the edge of a large casino, seeing a large pipeline or having housing developments and industrial parks next to the trail.

The Eighth Principle?

After reading his book The Man Who Walked Through Time and in preparation of a trip to the Grand Canyon in the mid 1980’s I wrote Colin Fletcher a letter asking his recommendations on where to hike. He wrote back saying “no”, that I had to find my own way. He was concerned that his sharing of that kind of information would lead to more people visiting pristine areas and trampling them.

With more and more people using social media, geocaching and drones in their outdoor adventures it becomes easier to broadcast special areas to many future visitors. This can cause big problems especially if these visitors are not educated in the principles of Leave No Trace.

There is a thought of an eighth principle concerning these technologies and the sharing of information. Certainly the Leave No Trace Center of Outdoor Ethics takes a well-researched look at all factors affecting outdoor recreation. The 7 Principles have existed in their current incarnation for 20 years and I believe they cover the sharing of information thgrouogh two existing principles; Leave What You Find, and Be Considerate of Others.

If you think about it, if you discover an ancient relic or a field of beautiful wildflowers you enjoy them, perhaps take a few pictures, and leave them alone. Not sharing the information on a wide platforms protects them and allows others to enjoy them naturally. You are also being considerate of others by allowing them to “find” these sites on their own.

Remember the reason for the 7 principles is because things are not always black and white, right or wrong. Rather, they are guidelines for a decision making process to help us enjoy the outdoors more responsibly. As people recognize their impacts they should quickly understand how to behave in a sustainable manner.

Look for ways to become a better steward of the wild areas you enjoy. Consider furthering your education in Leave No Trace by taking an online course at www.lnt.org, or attending a Trainer Course or Master Educator Class. Above all else, let your action become an example of exercising good stewardship of the areas you enjoy and help them stay that way for future generations.