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Trail Conservancy Cautions Pandemic Care When Hiking

By Jack Guerino
iBerkshires Staff
07:37AM / Sunday, May 31, 2020
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Although most of the Appalachian Trail is still open, hikers are asked to practice common sense during the pandemic while on the trail or to just stay home.
 
COVID-19 has challenged people to find new ways to stay active while practicing social distancing and local trail volunteer Cosmo Catalano, Jr said although folks are encouraged to stay home, common sense needs to be used to maintain social distancing. 
 
"The AT, along with other trails on public lands provides an important resource for people to get outdoors in a healthy way," he said. "With care and common sense, it's relatively easy for people to maintain appropriate social distance and enjoy the outdoors."
 
Catalano said the trail organization structure is complicated and is organized by a number of entities. In Massachusetts about half the trail is on state forest lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The other half is on lands managed by the National Park Service.
 
But the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a non-profit organization that organizes independent volunteer trail maintaining groups, has asked hikers to stay off the 2,200-long trail to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
 
Thru-hikers have certainly been asked to cancel their long-distance treks. Catalano said it is near impossible to maintain social distancing at busy overnight sites at the traditional starting points in Georgia and Maine. Also, effective hand washing is impossible.  
 
Secondly, Catalano said hikers should not stop in communities to resupply.
 
"Particularly in the south, long-distance hikers rely on very small towns in remote parts of the country for resupply and other off-trail services," he said. "Sick hikers, who may not even be displaying symptoms, can create an unintended virus hot spot in a small community with limited health care resources."
 
He added that several towns have closed hiker facilities to stop the spread of COVID-19 and that the National Forest has closed sections of the trail. Plus shelters along the trail are closed. 
 
Catalano said land managers are the only ones who can close the trail and although the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has asked hikers to stay off the trail, he acknowledged that people will likely go hiking anyways.
 
If this is the case, people need to be responsible and he referred to this list published by American Trails.
 
He said this is already becoming a problem with folks jumping on some of the more popular trails and if a trailhead looks crowded, stay away.
 
"Generally, if the parking area is full, choose a different location for your hike," he said. "There are lots of opportunities for safe, responsible recreation in the Berkshires that don't just involve the AT. State Forests have miles of trails of all types. DCR has good trail maps online for all of their major properties."
 
He said if hikers have their heart set on the AT there are many very lightly traveled sections. He said to look for sections that don't go to a popular summit or a body of water and go earlier in the day.
 
He if you encounter someone on the trail use common sense and make room while being mindful of your surroundings. He said in many cases it is impossible to step away from the trail without damaging plant life.
 
With social distancing even two people on the same trail can cause damage. 
 
"The trail is a narrow footpath so hikers approaching each other should step well to the side to let the other pass," he said. "In heavily used areas this can be damaging to the trail environment as plants become repeatedly trampled."
 
He said also avoid any public facilities or amenities that have been closed by the state.
 
"We'd recommend not using facilities at overnight sites, such as picnic tables or privies, since these are typically ‘high touch’ areas where hikers linger," Catalano said. "This is the primary reason the DCR and NPS have officially closed overnight facilities in Mass."
 
He did say trail maintenance has all but stopped and asked hikers to report any damage to facilities.
 
Catalano said there are other ways to stay active that are easier to maintain social distancing. He suggested walking in more open spaces or trying paddling
 
"Paddling is another option pretty easy to maintain separation on the water assuming the launch area is not overwhelmed," he said. "There are many publicly accessible lakes and ponds in the Berkshires w/o a busy boat ramp. … Simply walking in your neighborhood is another fine way to get outdoors; and you might meet some of your neighbors at an appropriate distance of course."
 

Tags: Appalachian Trail,   COVID-19,   

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