Taking a Look at the Big Picture

Text by Laura Belleville, Director of Conservation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Here at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a day does not go by where we, and our trail management partners, don’t hear about hikers engaged in activities that are not compatible with Trail values. That’s not to say that there aren’t thousands of hikers that are doing the right thing, but more and more it seems to be tipping in the other direction. And as Baxter State Park has called out, it’s time to wrestle this issue to the ground.

We need everyone’s help. When I think about inappropriate behavior on the Trail I recall the widely popular and effective anti-littering campaign in the 1980s. This campaign was effective because it depicted the extent of litter across our lands and asked everyone to take a hard look at what they were doing to contribute to the growing problem.

Let’s face it, we could all benefit from taking a hard look at how we behave on the Trail. Day hikers, thru-hikers, section hikers all have a responsibility to protect the unique experience of hiking a world-renowned National Scenic Trail. It’s a precious resource that should not be tarnished. Frankly, the last thing I want to hear is that a hiker chooses to hike elsewhere because the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is no longer the outdoor experience we have all come to revere.

So, here’s a message from all trail managers: please, help out the Trail. It would be great if GOOD trail behavior goes viral. Here are some ways you can contribute to the effort:

  • Know before you go. The A.T. is unique in that it crosses 14 state borders, eight different national forests, six national park units and numerous state park, forest and game lands. Those lands are all managed for different purposes, which means the way you enjoy those lands will vary. But that’s just part of the A.T. experience!
  • Remember respect. Respect the Trail and those who choose to walk it. It’s just good Trail Karma.
  • Help others make the right decision. With such a large amount of people choosing to visit the A.T., the chances are great that any one of us may inadvertently damage the natural area around the Trail. Brush up on Leave No Trace here, and remind others when necessary.

We welcome your ideas and suggestions to promote the good while minimizing the bad. Let us know your ideas by commenting below.

View our response to the Baxter State Park Facebook post about this issue here.


  1. I find Ron Tipton’s comments in a recently published article on this topic, “Hikers behaving badly: Appalachian trail partying raises concern” (http://wric.com/2015/08/30/hikers-behaving-badly-appalachian-trail-partying-raises-concern/) to be confusing. On the one hand he says the AT Conservancy is “encouraging thru-hikers to start at different spots to better distribute hikers.” This is commonly referred to as “flip-flopping”. And this year, nearly a quarter of all thru-hikers are taking that initiative. But then Tipton goes on to say that “Katahdin is such an icon [that]…having the trail end somewhere short of that would be a disappointment.” I highly doubt that any of the nearly 500 flip-flopping thru-hikers who finish the trail somewhere other than Katahdin will feel any less satisfied (or disappointed) with their accomplishment. Hiking any length of the AT, or hiking its entire length in any configuration, is reward in itself. Katahdin is a beautiful mountain, but it’s not the Holy Grail, and for the flip-.floppers it may not even be the terminus. As a community of hikers we have to take the emphasis away from Katahdin the ‘icon’, and celebrate the joy of just being on the trail. I believe that conversation should start with the ATC executive director.



      1. yes…my mistake. Thank you for clearing up the contradiction. That, however, does not speak to the bigger issue of the attitude held by managers of the Trail who on the one hand “encourage” hikers to use routes other than the traditional NOBO thru from Springer to Katahdin, while holding as “iconic” a Katahdin terminus. I just feel it’s time to shift the conversation, and that the ATC is ideally situated to spearhead that effort.


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