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.

The start of a great A.T. tradition? I think yes

Ryan Seltzer in 2009//Photo courtesy of Ryan Seltzer//Text by Maxwell Roeske, public relations intern

The classic line “April showers bring May flowers” is being rewritten by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). The ATC is welcoming May with the Inaugural Flip Flop Kickoff Weekend at its Harpers Ferry, WV Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3—and from now on, you’ll hear people in the town of Harpers Ferry saying “April showers bring May Flip Floppers.”

A flip flop thru-hike is an alternative to the old school definition of a thru-hike. Today’s Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers ought to know that thru-hiking the world’s most famous long-distance footpath doesn’t mean they have to start and end in Georgia or Maine. In fact, more and more thru-hikers are finding out that Harpers Ferry is an ideal location to begin or end their hike. The allure of visiting the town twice then tips the scales toward a flip flop hike.

When flip flop hikers triumphantly return to the area for a special version of a “half-time” celebration, “They have a chance to to explore the C&O Towpath, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the Potomac Heritage Trail and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park,” said Laurie Pottieger, the ATC’s information services manager and organizer of what is being dubbed as the FFKO Weekend. “It’s a jumping off point for flip floppers and day hikers alike that offers a wealth of hiking opportunities and more.”

Flip flopping visitors get a chance to take some down time not usually afforded to those thru-hikers who are focused on Katahdin and its October 15 summit deadline. Many take advantage of the leisure time to wait for their southbound (SOBO) compatriots and join them in the A.T.’s southern migration from Baxter State Park towards Springer Mountain.

Joseph "Bellows" and Catherine "Watermelon" summit Katahdin during their 2014 flip flop thru-hike.

Joseph “Bellows” and Catherine “Watermelon” summit Katahdin during their 2014 flip flop thru-hike.

ATC’s Flip Flop Kick Off Weekend is a chance to celebrate and learn more about this new movement. The festival schedule is jam-packed with everything from giveaways and games to live music and hiking workshops to an official bon voyage for this year’s flip flop hikers. ATC’s Trail Information Specialist Tenny Webster, who is leading a workshop during the event, said, “We’ll be demonstrating bear bag hanging techniques including the latest and greatest tricked out variations. We’ll show various bear bag hanging systems and all of their components, from the ideal equipment for a hang (and what you will actually have on the Trail), to knots you need to know, and of course, the importance of troubleshooting as you go. It will be hands-on, so people should bring their throwing arm for some ‘Spring Training’!”

Eighty percent of hikers who set out to complete the entire A.T. in 12 months or less start in Georgia and end in Maine. Talk about a crowd! Flip flopping offers a relief from the large groups of Northbound (NOBO) hikers not only to the flip flopper, but to the Trail itself. The ATC is encouraging this conservation-minded thru-hike.

Ryan “Castanada” Seltzer, the ATC Corridor Stewardship Coordinator, is also a FFKO workshop presenter, and after successfully completing a flip flop in 2009, he’s been a flip flop advocate from the start.

“The A.T. is here to stay,” he said. “As the Trail’s popularity continues to grow, users must consider the impacts they cause and spread them out so that nature has the opportunity to heal itself. And to not just follow the crowd, spread out, take as much time as they can.”

Who wouldn’t want to soak up as much of the Trail’s beauty as they could? Flip flopping lets you slow down and enjoy more of the little things.

“That’s really why people should consider a flip flop hike,” concluded Seltzer.

The Flip Flop Kick Off is about more than the awesome temporary tattoos you can get during the festival (whice are seriously cool). It’s about celebrating the men and women, young and old alike, adopting this new version of a thru-hike. We’re gathering to celebrate the traditions of our beloved Trail melding seamlessly with new alternatives that are only going strengthen the A.T. for generations to come. That’s why there’s no doubt in my mind, that the answer to the question, “Is this the start of a new A.T. tradition?” is a resounding YES!

For more information about the Flip Flop Kick Off, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/flipflop.

tHarmony provides a chance for ‘Love at First Hike’

Canuck and Happy Hipster on the Appalachian Trail//Photo courtesy tHarmony//Text by Happy Hipster

Below is a real-life testimonial from two hikers who met using tHarmony, a dating service offered in partnership with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. To learn more about tHarmony or to sign up to find your Trailmate, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/tharmony.

The timing was perfect. Back in July, a few days before my paid subscription to tHarmony was set to expire, a guy named Canuck who had a beard that melted my soul contacted me and asked if I wanted to go hiking. I thought, “Why not try one last time? Maybe this time I’ll find love.”

I have hiked with a lot of people over the years—including some guys who became my friends and some who became a little bit more. I have no regrets about those past relationships, though, because they helped mold me into a better backpacker and, ultimately, a better person. This means that by the time Canuck came into my life, I was pretty confident about who I was and what I wanted in a trail (and soul) mate. Coming from a good place emotionally allows me to bring more to the proverbial “tent,” so to speak, and enjoy what Canuck has to offer—both on and off the trail.

Canuck and I just fit, and it feels like we’ve been hiking with each other forever. People ask us how long we’ve been together, and it always surprises us to realize it wasn’t too long ago that we met for our first hike near Bear Mountain, New York. We do feel like it took our whole lives to find each other, though, and now we’re sticking together like mac n’ cheese (but not with that pouch of tuna mixed in, because tuna mac is so early 2000s).

Thank you, tHarmony, for matching us. I know we couldn’t have done it without you! On Friday, we’ll celebrate our 9-month anniversary, and we figured we ought to give credit where it’s due. To anyone doubting the site, anyone that is tired or having poor luck dating in the hiker community, don’t give up! Dating can be exhausting and hard work, but tHarmony makes it easier. Just keep on waiting for that little bit of magic to come along.

Canuck and Happy Hipster live in Bear Mountain, New York, and they hit the Trail together almost every weekend. Canuck still rocks the beard that attracted Happy Hipster to him in the first place.

Erasing a trend

Heading to Springer Mountain from Forest Service Road 42//Photo by Anne Baker//Text by Robert J. Collins, guest blogger

Just what does it take to clean up graffiti at a shelter along the Appalachian Trail? Here’s a firsthand account from a shelter overseer who is not only attempting to clean up the mess, but also stop it permanently.   

Modern day petroglyphs? Self-expression art? An expected rite of passage? Vandalism? The definition of graffiti depends on who you ask. Prehistoric men and women felt a need to mark caves with drawings of animals or to scrape signs and shapes on rocks. Were these messages for others traveling through the area, or were they sitting out a thunderstorm in a cave, bored? Today we can still see the overwhelming urge that humans have to leave their mark—even along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

Springer Shelter

Late last year I was asked by Susie McNelly, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club overseer at Woods Hole Shelter, to help her haul wood chips. While we were at Woods Hole, she showed me how she was trying to remove the graffiti that was beginning to cover the shelter. As the co-overseer of Georgia’s Springer Mountain Shelter, I was very familiar with graffiti in both the carving and marker forms.

I began thinking that since most thru-hikes start at Springer, it is probably the first shelter new hikers see. If they see graffiti all over the shelter left by past hikers they probably assume this is an acceptable and almost expected way of announcing to the world that they were there and where they are going. It’s sort of like a wilderness version of Facebook or Twitter—only this “social media message board” is destructive, at times very vulgar and demeaning, and is in fact a criminal act.

I decided that this behavior was not conducive to an enjoyable experience for everyone and decided to try and change the graffiti permissive culture to one aligned with the principles of Leave No Trace. As with any cultural change, it will take education, diligence and most of all time. Thirty years ago smoking in office buildings, restaurants and even hospitals was a completely acceptable behavior, but today, you would not only be stared at and ridiculed but would be subject to a hefty fine. Peer pressure is a very powerful tool.

I discussed my graffiti eradication plans with my co-overseer Frank Wright, trail supervisor Marion Mclean and district leader David Stelts, and they all agreed it was a good idea. We wanted Springer to set the bar with hopes that if hikers stopped leaving their mark at Springer it would carry over up the Trail at other shelters. So with the help of my wife Patty, Frank and I waited for a day when the temperature was above 50 degrees and began our project.

We decided to first fill in all of the deep carvings with Elmer’s ProBond professional wood filler which is stainable and is approved for exterior use, and if it worked well, to return and take care of the less noticeable carvings. To remove Sharpie writings we used “Goof-Off” and sand paper. We waited a couple of days for the filler to dry (it normally takes 24 hours to dry, but with overnight temps in 20s it took longer) and I went to the tool shed and got a couple of gallons of the original stain used when the shelter was built.

We applied the original stain, but since it was transparent, the gray wood filler bled through and it looked worse than the graffiti!  But after talking with a professional in the paint and stain department at Lowe’s, Patty and I were able to select a cover stain in a reddish brown color, enabling us to try and match the wood of the shelter and not be as noticeable.

Again we waited for a 50+ degree day and went back and sanded the original stain off of the wood filler and then applied the new cover stain. It worked! It not only covered the gray wood filler but was a very close match to the wood. The shelter was returned to her original glory—and instead of looking like an ogre in the woods, she had the warm welcoming glow of a Thomas Kincaid painting offering tired and sore hikers a dry, clean and graffiti-reduced haven.

I realize that every time I go to clean the shelter I will have to bring my can of cover stain and wood filler to remove new graffiti. But if we can begin to see a reduction in new graffiti within the first year of this project, it will be an investment that will pay big dividends in the future.

Robert J. Collins is the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club co-overseer of section 3.1 (Springer Mountain Summit to FS 42) and got his trail name “Psycho” after years of skydiving and BASE jumping.

Reflections from the show floor

Amy McCormick, ATC’s Corporate Relations and Events officer, with The Real Hiking Viking, a 2013 Warrior Hike participant//Donated photo//Text by Amy McCormick

I’ve just returned from another exciting Winter Market Outdoor Retailer Show (OR) in Salt Lake City—an awesome outdoor gear trade show that features leading industry professionals and all the new products and apparel. Twice a year, I head out to OR to meet up with all of our partners (and chat with prospective partners) in order to share with everyone how the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is using their support, as well as figure out how we can all do more to protect the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

This particular show was huge for the ATC because we were really able to promote new partnerships and show off some great A.T.-themed gear. Here’s the inside scoop on two products that will be available this year that hikers and A.T. enthusiasts will love:

  • A limited edition, American handcrafted blanket by Woolrich that is part of a “Triple Crown” hiking series in honor of the A.T. and its sisters, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. A small number of the blankets were for sale at OR to supporters who understood the value of what the ATC does to preserve and manage the A.T. It was exciting to see people’s enthusiasm for the beautiful blankets, and we can’t wait until they are available in stores at woolrich.com in the fall.
  • ORshow_McCormickPoint6Superior merino wool socks by Point6 that is also part of a “Triple Crown” line of its own! These socks are a must-have for hiking (and walking show floors!), and with each sock purchase, you have the added bonus of knowing that you are giving back to the ATC. Look for them at point6.com in the spring. Socks benefitting the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition will also be available.

During the show, I was also excited to learn that another one of our great partners and ATC hammock manufacturer Eagle’s Nest Outfitters (ENO) was named REI vendor of the year—which in these circles is a huge honor. Since 2010, ENO has donated approximately $70,000 to the ATC and has given A.T. supporters everywhere a chance to hammock in style, all while giving back to the Trail they all love. (It should be mentioned that REI is also an ATC supporter—thank you!)

Overall, my time at OR gave me a chance to meet with so many folks from the outdoor industry who are genuinely interested in giving back to the places we all play, including the world-famous A.T. These companies are keenly aware of the need to support our work. Whether it is land protection, outdoor recreation, volunteerism or encouraging our children to get outside, we all have a role to play, and through partnerships such as these, we can make great things happen!

Have you seen my solar charger?

The White Mountains//New Hampshire//Photo by Micah “ManCub” Goldberg//Text by Anne Baker, marketing assistant

There’s a debate out there that might generate more heat than the age-old question of “App-uh-ley-chun” versus “App-uh-lach-uhn,” and that’s the issue of technology and the Appalachian Trail. As hikers, how do we use things like mobile devices without diminishing the A.T. experience for ourselves and others?

Benton MacKaye, the A.T.’s visionary, originally proposed that the Trail would be a series of work, study and farming camps along the Appalachian Mountains. He wanted those camps to be a refuge from city life, which he felt was quickly encroaching on society. His dream didn’t quite work out that way, but the idea is still present: get away from it all, and learn something.

We can be apprehensive of combining technology and outdoor experiences, and with good reason. Maybe we are afraid it will make us lazy. Less prepared. More reliant on a glowing screen than our intuition. Able to occupy a comment box on Facebook but not a seat around a campfire. And, perhaps we’re also afraid it will make us care more about the photo we post to Instagram than what it means to look at the view itself (“What did the sky look like that day? Let me consult #ISummitedKatahdinAndItWasAwesome because I was too caught up in sharing my experience instead of observing it.”)

There’s not an app out there that will prepare us for everything we will encounter while we’re out on the A.T. But technology is here, and it’s silly to pretend it doesn’t exist. The dilemma, then, lies in its use: how can technology enhance the A.T. experience and not detract from it?

Let us know your thoughts in a comment below.