We are very fortunate our forefathers thought enough to set aside some of our natural treasures for protection. In the late 1800’s several national parks were established with the Army for protection. TheNational Park Service was later founded in 1916 to protect these wonders. The census of 1980 simply announced that there was no more frontier.
Initially people were afraid to venture into the unknown “wilderness.” With transportation options developing (cars and trains), and large hotel/lodges being built, people started to visit our parks and forests. Over the years it became apparent that visitors were leaving a significant impact on the lands. Each land management agency developed programs to help educate users. Ultimately, the Center for Leave No Trace Ethics was established to research the impacts and develop educational programs.
In 2016 the U.S. National Park Service celebrated its one hundredth anniversary with a big promotion to get people to “find” their park. Now we are struggling with record visitation levels. I heard that in 2016 the parks had as many visitors in that year as they had had in its one-hundred-year history.
It gets harder and harder to find a solitary wilderness experience. At Rocky Mountain National Park visitors to Bear Lake have to park miles away and be shuttled to the trailhead. In Zion National Park long lines develop to major points of interest. There has been talk of requiring reservations to visit certain parks.
And then we have the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Each spring we see over four thousand hikers on the first 30 miles of the trail, and that number keeps growing. While the trail is well maintained and capable of handling the traffic, the impact is off the trail. The proliferation of campsites, fires, TP gardens, trash etc. is the major problem.
All this gives rise to the thought that our parks and forests are over promoted and under protected. While we can’t do much to curb the enthusiasm of visitors, we need to adopt measures to affect their behavior. This is the focus of the Protecting the Appalachian Trail Hiking Experience (PATHE) committee.
Currently under consideration are educational measures. At the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center, Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors attempt to “educate” hikers on sustainable techniques. I fear the hikers listen for a few minutes but are too excited about beginning their journey to pay much attention. Also discussed are a “bear resistant food storage system” (bear canister) and permits. The Nantahala Forest currently has a scoping letter on these subjects.
Since most hikers do not understand the effect of their impact, we need to create an environment which causes proper behavior. A student at Yale suggested in his report a “certified hiker;” having completed an online course, one would enjoy discounts and some recognition. A peer to peer influence would work best if that can be worked out.
The other day I visited the Springer Mountain shelter area with section overseers Frank Wright and Robert Collins. We discussed the use of “designated” and “undesignated” campsites and a system to protect the area. We evaluated a numbering system where those “acceptable” sites would be given a number with signage directing campers to those sites. The thought is this would encourage users to stay at those sites and to not setup anywhere else.
This would make it possible for the Ridge Runner or Trail Ambassador to direct hikers to camp sites and help ensure a high level of compliance. Of course, this requires National Environment Policy Act studies and other approvals before being made official.
On Sunday Sept 16 we will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the National Scenic Trails Act at Reformation Brewery from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Please join other club members at 105 Elm St. in Woodstock for some good times and great beer.
This October we will hold the second Trail Skills Workshop at Lake Winfield Scott October 27-28. This is an excellent opportunity to learn a new trail skill or sharpen skills. For more information and to register visit https://georgia-atclub.org/images/stories/2018_Trail_Skills_Workshop_Info_Sheet.pdf.
Also, don’t forget the annual meeting Saturday October 6 in Dahlonega. This is a good time to get caught up with club affairs and old friends and to receive T-shirts for work trips.