High Volumes of Traffic Causes Concern for the Appalachian Trail

by Amy Myers

Cabin fever is still brewing. Between this year and last, national and state parks have seen a huge influx of visitors hoping to find escape in the great outdoors. Among these increasingly popular sites is the Appalachian Trail, the ultimate backpacking challenge for folks on the East Coast. With 2,100 miles, the trail stretches from Georgia to Maine, providing some of the best vistas in the country. New hikers are discovering the beauty of the AT. However, many fear that these newcomers may be loving the trail “to death.”

Frequent visitors and thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail are well familiar with the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). A code that helps protect natural sites and wild residents, the most neglected principle is disposing of waste properly. Or, as AT enthusiasts often say: Pack out what you pack in.

Unlike some state parks, the Appalachian Trail doesn’t have any waste bins along the way. With bears and other scavengers frequenting the areas, communal garbage cans would only encourage the interaction of wild animals and hikers. This can lead to a dangerous situation for both parties. As a result, hikers should bring their trash back out of the woods with them. Instead, many new visitors prefer just to leave their scraps behind.

Trash and Deterioration Threatens the Appalachian Trail

It’s not like there’s a staff dedicated to picking up garbage on the Appalachian Trail (not that we should need to have one). The maintenance groups that help preserve the trail comprise volunteers that sacrifice their free time to preserving the beauty of the East Coast’s longest trail. One of those volunteers is Roanoke County, Virginia resident Brian Hall.

“I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was treated for that over 2 years and so that’s in remission,” Hall told WSLS 10. “But I’m 60 years old and I’m retired and none of us really know how long we’ve got, so you’ve got to do things while you can.”

A little further west, Chris Brunson manages 32 miles of the trail from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to Virginia. The trail enthusiast told TODAY that trash pick-up is worse than it ever has been in his 30 years working on the trail. The Appalachian Trail has some federal funding from the National Park Service, but budgeting is tight. Not to mention, the trail also faces a more prominent threat – deterioration.

Some pathways have doubled in size because of the sheer number of visitors that use the more popular parts of the trail. This is particularly true for ones that end with overlooks. While that may seem like a natural solution to high traffic, this erosion is detrimental to surrounding flora and fauna.

“It’s getting loved to death, just like the national parks are,” said Georgia Appalachian Trail Club member Don Converse. “It’s difficult to maintain the pristine nature of it.”