Due to COVID, 2021 is not the year to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, group warns

Appalachian Trail hikers - the intrepid outdoor adventurers who attempt a one-off, end-to-end hike each year on the 2,190-mile Georgia to Maine trail - should postpone their trip until next year.
So says the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages and maintains the mighty trail that runs through 14 states, including nearly 96 miles in North Carolina, as the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues to make long-distance hiking unsafe.
Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director, said most of the roughly 4,000 hikers who begin a trek each year travel north, and many begin the six-month journey in Springer Mountain, Georgia in February and March.
"Our advice, as long as the pandemic is raging and vaccines are not widespread and the CDC has not given us the all-clear signal, we recommend not doing long-distance hikes with the AT," Sommerville said.
"We are concerned about the safety of AT volunteers, AT hikers, members of AT communities, and of course ATC staff and employees of our federal partners."
John Totty of Destin, Florida, left, and James Brandenburg of Tampa head north on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina in October 2019.
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Sommerville, who lives in Asheville, said 2,000 migrants have already signed up. Coming through the 71 mile trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, these hikers reach towns like Franklin and Hot Springs on western North Carolina's Appalachian Trail in March and April, where they gather in large numbers to rest, repair equipment, and To provide replenishment.
Even in emergency shelters, they stay in a tight space along the way. The shelters do not adhere to the CDC's COVID safety guidelines, which include maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet from people who do not live in the same household and washing hands frequently with soap and water.
More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since it first arrived in the country a year ago.
All shelters in national forest areas remain closed, and some states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, have quarantine or COVID testing requirements.
Appalachian Trail hikers will be taken away to eat in a parking lot on March 30th by the Motor Company on Main Street, Franklin. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has urged hikers to postpone their trips and not hike anyone today in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
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The Great Smokies are still issuing Appalachian Trail hiker permits to those who travel the park exclusively on the Appalachian Trail and begin and end their hike at least 50 miles on the trail outside the park, said spokeswoman Dana Soehn.
"All permit holders, regardless of the length of their trip or route, are currently allowed to sleep in tents outside the shelters in order to promote physical distancing," said Soehn.
Last March, ATC President and CEO Sandra Marra issued a letter to all registered hikers asking them to postpone their section or hike in order to minimize the spread of the virus and, in particular, move away from the starting points Keep out of Georgia where thousands live Start in a "bubble".
More: ATC urges hikers to stay away from the Appalachian Trail in 2020 amid the spread of the coronavirus
No migrant recognitions were given last year, according to Sommerville, and none will be recognized in 2021.
"The rising number of COVID-19 cases continues to make long-distance hiking a potential contributor to the spread of coronavirus along the trail and in trailside communities. The best way to make sure you and others stay safe is to postpone your walks, ”said an announcement on the ATC website.
"However, if you are planning a hike of any length in 2021, please reduce the spread of COVID-19 by properly preparing for your hikes."
The website provides safety guidelines for those who intend to hike through despite the warnings.
It was much quieter this year at REI Asheville, an outdoor outfitter in Biltmore Park, where AT hikers often stop November through February to buy hiking and camping gear and get advice from the store staff, managers said Bree Miller.
On October 3, 2020 tents were set up at the Max Patch at the Max Patchian.
The store has had to curtail its customer capacity to comply with state COVID rules and has not held any of its usual camping, orienteering, or hiking preparation courses.
"We have had people come into the store preparing for a hike, but not in the numbers we usually see," Miller said.
"We have advised against any long-distance hiking this year. We encourage people to take shorter day hikes."
Relatives: Max Patch is overrun, destroyed by campers
Sommerville said only 25% of those who attempt a tedious hike each year actually get one.
However, the trail spans many public areas like the Pisgah National Forest, including popular spots like Roan Mountain in Mitchell County's and Max Patch in Madison County's, and attracts an estimated 3 to 4 million day hikers each year.
Related: Max Patch overcrowding is not an easy problem to solve
"We're trying to plan the worst and hope for the best about the pandemic and hope everyone takes all possible precautions because we don't want anyone to catch COVID on the AT or anywhere," he said.
Karen Chavez is an award-winning outdoor and environmental reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times and the USA TODAY Network. She is the author of "Best Hikes with Dogs: North Carolina" and a former ranger for the National Park Service.
Reach me: KChavez@CitizenTimes.com or on Twitter @KarenChavezACT
Read more outdoor news: www.citizentimes.com/outdoors
This article originally appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times: Appalachian Trail Conservancy Discourages Hikers in 2021

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