Recently the PATHE group held the quarterly meeting at Forest Service Headquarters in Gainesville. I was a little disappointed that fewer and fewer GATC people attend these meetings. A couple of years ago there were about 18 club members in attendance, with 3 or 4 Forest Service people and one or two ATC people.
Now more Forest Service personnel attend and Amicalola Falls State Park and Georgia DNR are represented. It could be that some club members have not been made aware of the meetings. I have complied a list of people that have attended previous meetings and will reach out to them for future meetings. If any club member is interested in participating, please let me know so you will be on the list for the July meeting.
In the meeting the idea of moving the bear box from Woods Hole Shelter to Jarrard Gap was discussed. This started the discussion about proper food storage techniques. The bear canister requirement between Jarrard and Neel Gap, causes people to camp at Jarrard Gap. The bear can requirement starts at the north bound border of the gap.
The decision was made to not move the box on the basis that it would probably only collect trash at Jarrard Gap. There is also the thought that we might be making things too easy for hikers. Even though the Woods Hole Shelter has bear cables and the box the bear canister requirement is still in effect. One thought is that the boxes offer a safe place for bear canisters, where animals will not take the can and lose it in the woods.
Morgan, brought a Bear Vault 450 (the smaller one) that had been unsuccessfully mauled by a bear. It had been “lost” for several weeks and found with the contents intact. Morgan pointed out the polycarbonate cans were beginning to show some degradation as western bears have been known to penetrate them.
There has been an ongoing discussion about a bear canister requirement in all of Georgia, or up to the Virginia line as Morgan would suggest. Eric Graves pointed out something interesting about how bear cubs learn to forage for food. If mama bear raises her cubs between Jarrad and Neel Gap they learn to not associate people with food. Theoretically because that area has “good” food storage habits. Now when the cubs grow up and move to nearby areas without storage requirements they begin to find food sources near people.
I support an improved Food Storage Program through Georgia. We have been lucky there have been no problematic bear issues on our trail. It only takes one or two situations to make things bad. Having a requirement will help insure against any problems with bears and other animals.
Then the discussion considers what makes for a “safe” food storage system. Popular bear canisters are pretty good, my sense is that a titanium vault would probably be the most resistant, even though other models perform well. There is also the question of armored bags such as the Ursack. These are usually made of Kevlar which affords puncture resistance, although the contents can get smashed unless a sleeve is inserted.
These systems can be somewhat costly starting around $60.00 and going over a hundred. This could affect compliance and numbers of hikers on the A.T. Perhaps some enterprise would set up a rental operation for hikers in Georgia. Although, the price is not that much when you consider the cost of equipping a thru-hiker.
Discussion on this requirement should start now. It should be discussed on social media platforms to spread the word and solicit comments. It could take several years for implementation, information needs to filter through so that compliance seems normal.
Last year the Forest Service gave the club 15 bear canisters for our evaluation. I conducted a survey of those using the cans, mainly Trail Ambassadors. On a scale of 1 to 5 (not likely to very likely) around 65% “liked” using the canisters and planned to continue. Support for a state requirement fell to 50% of those surveyed.
A side benefit of this requirement would have hikers becoming better stewards of their environment and practitioners of sustainable backcountry ethics. As they understand why food storage is important to the trail, perhaps they will also understand the effect they have. This should help mitigate the impact of noncompliant campsites, proliferation of fire rings, shortcutting switchbacks and trash.
Leave No Trace in Every Park
Recently I attended a webinar lead by the chairman and executive director of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. One of their major initiatives is to get the Leave No Trace concept in every park by the year 2030. By “every park” they mean all public lands city, state or federal.
They recognize that roughly 90% of the population has no clue about these ethics because they have had no exposure. Currently, the Center estimates they have about 30% coverage of public lands and are looking for complete coverage in twelve years. The objective is to have meaningful presentations about Leave No Trace. This would come from signage, brochures and programs run by rangers and volunteers to visitors.
The current strategies start with Hot Spots. These are identified has critical areas that can be improved with a weeklong visit from the Travelling Trainers. In March of 2016 GATC hosted a Hot Spot out of Amicalola Falls which was very effective. An application has been submitted to host another one in March of 2019.
The Gold Standard program recognizes an area that has met certain criteria which includes; a successful implementation of Leave No Trace into efforts at the site, trained staff/volunteers, signage and language throughout the site, and programs available to the public.
Other plans include Citizen Science that engages people to document information that leads to a better understanding and changes. The Center is dedicated to the research of the human dimension, understanding what people do and how it affects the outdoors. Additionally, the visitor’s points of contact (rangers/volunteers) need to be trained as well so they can communicate with the public.
GATC is currently working on a Leave No Trace Interpretive Trail at Amicalola Falls. This would place kiosks along the first two hundred yards of the Approach Trail, starting at the Arch. Hikers and visitors would be exposed to the Leave No Trace principles. In addition staff at the park would be trained to present the principles to visitors on a short hike.