For those who have hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) on their bucket list for the year, Covid-19 may prove to be an unexpected complication.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the organization responsible for managing and protecting the famous trail, is advising all long-distance hikers wanting to try their hand at completing the full trail or multi-day hikes to wait until 2022.
“We’re really basing our guidance on the best information we have,” President and CEO Sandra Marra told CNN. “The guidance is based on science, on the states and the federal outline as to how we can proceed until everyone is fully vaccinated.”
Marra said that the ATC is looking at guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and a pandemic task force that they have been working with for over a year.
Long-distance hikers are more likely to pose a risk
Since the Appalachian Trail is internationally known, Marra said, one of the main issues is that it’s virtually impossible, if you don’t live in the area, to keep from contributing to the spread of Covid-19.
“If you’re planning a long-distance hike you’re going to have to travel somehow to get to the trailhead,” Marra said. “Once you start hiking, again with long-distance hiking in particular, you’re going to be more exposed to people because you are traveling further, and all of our sections of trail right now are very busy because we are still encouraging people to go out on day hikes locally.”
She said that most of the towns that include trailheads are more vulnerable because of their rural locations and if hikers go into the town to get supplies, that in itself can put a hiker or the community at risk.
On top of all of that, most of the overnight shelters on the 2,200-mile trail remain closed and hikers may have to carry extra equipment to accommodate any overnight stays on the trail, which some may not realize can add extra difficulty. If the difficulty turns into an injury or distress, local first responders can be put at risk.
There are measures for those who want to continue
Marra said the organization knows it can’t stop anyone from doing a long-distance hike, so there are several measures in place for those wanting to hit the trail in 2021, which currently includes more than 2,600 registered guests.
— The ATC encourages everyone to register so that if health changes occur, such as another shutdown in a particular state or section, they know who to contact;
— Hikers need to carry a mask and hand sanitizer so that they can keep themselves and others safe;
— Since most shelters are closed, hikers need to plan to tent alone or bring a hammock for overnight stays;
— Hikers need to be experienced and know how to handle themselves on the trail
But, again, the ATC strongly recommends against it.
“We all have to work together and we have to make sacrifices until this vaccine rolls out,” Marra said. “This is just a postponement of something you want to do — we all have a responsibility to make sacrifices for the greater good.”
Marra said that the organization is going to continue to monitor the CDC guidelines and the Covid-19 situation in order to keep hikers safe and informed.