Are you hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and have tried contacting the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC)? Maybe you were heading to the visitor center of the ATC in Pennsylvania only to be turned away or tried entering the any of the national parks that the trail runs through for various reasons only to see signage that the park was closed and you had to leave. This is all reality today, October 1, as the Government has shutdown taking national parks with it. According to the Appalachian Trail Conference, in an announcement dated October 1, the government shutdown has shut down at least 700 miles of the AT.
The story is the same no matter where you look, the national park system is government funded and so has to shut down, also included in that list are visitor centers and the AT visitor center in Pennsylvania is no exception. In a disturbing statement released by the ATC on their website, "The Appalachian Trail is now officially closed across the approximately 700 miles managed by the National Park Service. Because of the shutdown, all National Park Service – Volunteers In Parks (VIP) and USDA Forest Service - Volunteer In Forests (VIF) volunteer programs will be terminated. Therefore, for the duration of the shutdown, the ATC will not be able to engage with volunteers in activities on the Trail, Trail facilities, or Trail lands. We also are required to close our visitor center in Boiling Springs, PA."
What does this mean for hikers along the AT? A lot actually. The AT crosses through some state parks and many national parks, all of which are closed today and indefinitely. Those that want to walk the AT through North Carolina, for example, will not be able to do so, at least not the full length. Tennessee it is the same. However, those that want to cross into Baxter State Park and make their accent to Mt. Katahdin will be able to do so as Baxter State Park is not a national park. Some hikers will no doubt, wait it out, but others will be forced to stop their thru hike, which many would complete in October, and go home. The closures could mess up a hikers thru hike by simply delaying the hike long enough for snow to move into Maine thereby closing Mt. Katahdin.
According to the ATC, the 31 trail clubs and the thousands of volunteers that maintain the AT on a day-to-day basis will also be affected and will not be able to maintain the trail, leaving dangers for the 2.5 million hikers that will walk the trail this year. An extended shutdown would pose more dangers on the trail for hikers as agencies responsible for safety along the trail would not be reachable. There is no telling how long the shutdown may last, but one thing is for sure, we all will be affected in some way or another, those of us that love to hike the trail and those trails that stretch through other areas of the country will surely be affected.
For those that are on the trail and take a moment to read this at a hostel or stopping point, WIFI point etc. be aware, you will be turned away from national parks on the trail, those caught after being told to disburse will be trespassing, most likely. For further information on how the government shutdown affects the trail, trail events, and trail establishments, contact Ron Tipton (304-535-6331, ext. 116), or Laura Belleville, Director of Conservation (540-449-1138).