As I write this, it is HOT! The weather forecasts mid-nineties for the next 10 days. I wonder if that foretells a long hot summer. My body isn’t built for that kind of heat, but I will not stop hiking. I try to remember the hot days in winter as an offset!
We made it through another thru-hiker season and I think we did a great job. There were five Ridgerunners patrolling three shelters, the visitor center and the trail, along with a corps of our Trail Ambassadors. A special shout-out to Bill Bryant for stepping in at the last minute as a Ridgerunner, when one unexpectantly left. Brent Binion did a great job of getting the Trail Ambassadors set up for the season.
The good news is that for the first time in recent history there was no increase in hikers. The starting numbers at the end of April showed the volume to be about 24 hikers behind last year. As a result, the resource is less impacted. Hopefully this trend will continue next year.
The subcommittees of the Protecting the Appalachian Trail Hiking Experience (PATHE) committee are getting fired up. This is an exciting effort between GATC, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the Chattahoochee National Forest C-ONF, Amicalola Falls State Park (AFSP) and the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS). This model works so well it I feel it should be copied up the trail.
The NEPA-Campsite Committee is categorizing our trail into five categories from wilderness to front country. Through these definitions management prescriptions can be made. We will follow a study by Dr. Jeff Marion for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA) office where he is suggesting concentrated impacts, even in Wilderness Areas.
I have always felt that by concentrating impact, the rest of the area will remain pristine. Trails keep users in one place so the rest of the woods remains untouched. By locating campsites in areas that can handle the use, the rest of the woods will remain unspoiled.
The Stewardship Council of ATC has a campsite committee doing much the same work. Our Bill Bryant will be heading this committee, as well as working on ours. This is another example of how GATC is leading the pack.
The Food Storage Subcommittee is working on developing a plan and recommendation to C-ONF. I have been in favor of a food storage requirement with containers approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). We have been lucky that we have avoided any serious incidents and hope to continue with that good fortune. By requiring approved food storage containers such as a bear can or Ursack, we should be able to avoid bear encounters. I am concerned when I hear of hikers saying their food bag “makes an excellent pillow”. What they don’t consider is that food smells linger in the area and invite a visit days later, after the offender has left the area.
While the idea of being in a Wilderness precludes the idea of rules, I think visitors need some regulated guidance to create a more sustainable behavior. Perhaps with a requirement, awareness will increase about campsites, fire rings, trash and trail etiquette.
The Public Affairs Subcommittee is discussing the idea of promoting Amicalola Falls
State Park (AFSP) as the “preferred” starting point of the Appalachian Trail, with the slogan “Start Smart at the Arch”. This gives us an opportunity to continue presentations on low impact techniques to hikers. Many hikers are well prepared but have never hiked or camped! Many need our guidance.
Also, ATC wants hikers to register through atcamp.org. The benefit is that one could schedule a start on a slower day. With their contact information ATC can follow up with a survey.
The best statistics are collected at Basecamp at AFSP, with names and start dates counted. We know how many plan to start and actually do start, but only about 23% actually finish. What we don’t know is where hikers fall out. It would be especially interesting to see how many make it to Neel Gap and the border. If we had Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in the AT Tags, much information could be collected. However, I suspect the cost would be prohibitive.
I am running the Education Subcommittee. One of our charges is to bring a level of awareness to visitors to the Appalachian Trail. One strategy includes these points; 1) target “overnight” campers, who actually represent a larger problem because they are very underprepared. 2) develop self-evaluation mechanisms where a person can determine, for themselves, their level of preparedness. 3) develop a social media presence (Facebook etc.).
These strategies would reach people researching their hike and would hopefully guide them to a more successful experience.
We also are working on the third annual Trail Skills Workshop to be held in October. The principle objective is to share sustainable techniques for trail maintenance methods.
The 2 day Workshop will take place over a weekend in early October with camping available. GATC members will have an opportunity to register early, before the public. Dinner will be provided Saturday night. This is an excellent opportunity to improve your trail skills and spend time with other club members.
Recently I signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ATC. This document outlines our mutual responsibility for the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. ATC’s authority comes from APPA and flows through to GATC. This is similar to the Volunteer Service Agreement (VSA) we have with C-ONF.
The previous MOU listed Bly Gap as our northern border, which is well into North Carolina. This would require a VSA with the Nantahala National Forest to work that small section, which seems impracticable.
It also became apparent that the Boundary Tree, with a pipe indicating the border, is incorrect. As Stewart Holt has discovered, the actual boundary is trail south of that tree. He has an article on this discrepancy in this issue.
As the summer heats up, be sure to stay hydrated. Please be safe in the woods if you are out for a hike or trail work on your section. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. And…enjoy the trail!