Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Bureaucratic Solution to Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Issues*

The number of hikers starting Appalachian Trail thru-hikes in Georgia have increased each year such that shelter areas and campsites are beyond capacity. Hikers with scant hiking experience trash the trail with garbage, and are impacting wildlife with poor food-handling and personal hygiene practices. The impact to the trail threatens its viability, while hikers engaging in spring-break pack mentality in trail towns tests the townspeople's hospitality. At the other end of the trail, thru-hikers who fail to comply with Baxter State Park's regulations have resulted in threats to kick the AT off the iconic Mt. Katahdin.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC, has taken steps to spread out thru-hiker start dates, to encourage non-traditional hikes, and to educate them on Leave No Trace (LNT), trail ethics, and specific park policies.  Compliance is currently voluntary.

As a certified bureaucrat, I propose taking it up a notch.

Under my proposal, attendance at an Appalachian Trail Kick-Off, (ATKO) would run all spring, and become mandatory for any who intend to apply for 2000 miler certification as a "Thru-Hiker."

The AT Passport would be adopted by the ATC, and made mandatory. Thru-Hikers will purchase Passports at ATKOs, and will earn mandatory stamps for training in LNT Awareness, Wildlife Awareness. Bear-Bagging, Cat-Hole Digging, Trail Town Behavior, and the rules and regulations for GSMNP, BSP, and any other trail areas as necessary.

Mandatory pack checks will be conducted by the Mountain Crossings sales force, certified with a passport stamp.

In addition to the spring ATKO at Amicalola, there will be summer ATKOs for flip-floppers in Harper's Ferry, and in Monson.

The cost of administering and running ATKOs will be covered by user fees paid by Thru-Hikers. "Sir Packs A lot" will be offered a sole-source contract to run and administer all ATKOs.

To avoid ATKOs causing bunch-ups on the trail, permits will be issued with start dates at the completion of each ATKO. Hikers with a delayed start date will be bussed off to do trail maintenance under the supervision of Bob Peoples, and will receive a stamp on their passports. Those permits will satisfy GSMNP permitting requirements.

Trail-runners will be deputized to enforce permit start dates, and will be issued sidearms.

The completed passport and AT Thru-Hiker Permit are to be submitted to the ATC along with any application for 2000 Miler certification as a thru hiker. Anyone who wants their documents back will be required to include a SASE.

Those providing motel, hostel and shuttle services would be "strongly encouraged" to give "thru-hiker discounts" only to those in possession of a passport - or risk being delisted in the "AT Guide" and "Thru-hiker's Companion." "Trail Angel" hiker feeds will be allowed under license only. Licensed Trail Angels will be required to see a hiker's passport before providing any food or beverages, or risk losing their licenses. Undercover trail-runners will spot-check hiker feeds for compliance.

Those with known social media trolling skills will be employed to help foster a hiker culture that loves their passports the way El Camino hikers love their credentials - while simultaneously engendering the kind of seething hatred for those hikers without one, that thru-hikers to date have reserved for yellow blazers.

And to discourage yellow blazing, stamps from at least three locations from within the State of Pennsylvania will be required. (Stamps from DWG won't count.)

I believe theses small policy changes are good first steps to the reduce the threat brought on by "Wild," "A Walk In The Woods," Facebook, and a generation of "entitled hikers."

Or, we as a community could adopt a level of self-regulation sufficient to keep the feds off our backs. Nah!  Who am I kidding? Please provide comments on how we can make this more iron-clad below.

* Disclaimer - This is satire.

Ed Note: Mr L.Dog has a Masters in Public Administration from a fancy university, and wrote policy at the federal level for more than a few years.

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