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    Question Virginia journalist looking for thru hikers to talk about overcrowding on the AT

    The Appalachian Trail has been in the media a lot in the past year, due largely to the publicity around Scott Jurek's speed record, and the subsequent tickets he received from Baxter State Park officials for spraying/drinking champagne and being in too large of a group. A full recounting of the story is available in a New York Times article here.

    While the folks in Baxter may have overdone it a little in making an example out of Jurek, I was curious to get the opinions of people who have thru-hiked previously, or who are in the midst of a thru-hike on a question that Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell brought up in a letter he sent to the ATC in the winter of 2014.

    In the letter Bissell said on the matter of growth, "The AT model seems to be based on unlimited growth in use while BSP operates under a fixed capacity model." In a recent interview, Bissell confirmed his belief that the AT's model for growth is unsustainable.

    In 2014 I, myself, completed a thru hike. My name is Matt Chaney, and when I hiked I went by the trail name Sweet as a Peach. During my hike I experienced my share of overcrowding (especially in Georgia)...but didn't much see it as a problem at the time. That said, the experience was quite different than what I was expecting going into it, for better and worse, in that there were tons of people around, most people didn't follow Leave No Trace Ethics (myself included at times), I had wifi available mostly everywhere, and I didn't always feel like I was that much closer to nature or whatever it was I had built the trip up to be in my head going into it. And from talking to other hikers, I get the impression that this is what thru-hiking has become...Once more, not saying this is a bad thing, but it's just the way things are.

    So, for a story that I'm writing as part of a journalism class at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, about overcrowding on the AT, I wanted to get some opinions of thru-hikers of past and present, and even non-thru-hikers who have been around the trail over the years and watched as things have changed.

    The main question I want to ask is: Do you think the Appalachian Trail has become overcrowded? Please describe why or why not?

    And secondarily, if you think the trail is overcrowded, what needs to be done to fix the problem?

    One last thing that would be great, that would definitely improve your chances of getting into the story, would be if you could include a photo of yourself taken from your thru-hike, along with the year you completed your hike, your real name and your trail name.

    Thanks,
    Sweet as a Peach,
    aka Matt Chaney

  2. #2

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    Here's a photo from my 2014 thru hike taken on top of Mt. Madison in the White Mountains, New Hampshire: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...type=3&theater

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    The 2 hypes that are in the news about overcrowding are the Southern End of the trail during early Spring and the Baxter bad behavior. Both are not hiker generated. These stories are generated by the trail leadership who have an axe to grind. If you listen to the trail clubs then overcrowding is a huge problem. If you listen to thru hikers then it's a tempest in a teapot. I'm a Trail Journal junkie. If you read a bunch of trail journals you will get a feel for what the hikers have to say. They are quick to complain about what is bugging them about the trail. You can even make a list of common "chief complaints". The weather as you might imagine leads the list. Sore feet, bad knees. Too hot, Too cold, Too many bugs, Too steep, Too many rocks. The point here is that trail overcrowding is not on the list. The only time along the entire 2200 mile trip where a few hikers will mention it is the last day when they get to the foot of Baxter peak and they limit the number of thru hikers in the last campground and offer no good options. The best place for you to get the truth from Thru Hikers is to stake out a spot where the AT crosses I-64 near you and ask them. In a few weeks time from now the NOBO bubble should be in your neighborhood. If you ask people on this web page... it's like asking ATC because you won't get a hiker response you will get a "Trail club" response. After you interview a bunch of hikers....take that same question to a meeting of the PATC or any local trail club. In your story you could compare and contrast the 2 answers you get. Good Luck

  4. #4

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    Don't talk to this guy. He's not a journalist, but just trying to prove his idea...and there will be consequences.

    The only logical outcome of his article will be permits, fees, quotas, and more restrictions of our freedom.

    Even during "high season" you can hike without anyone else in sight 99% of the time. The trail is a pretty big place.

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    Registered User soilman's Avatar
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    Yes in my opinion the trail is overcrowded. I base this on comparison of my 1976 SOBO hike to my 2010 NOBO thru hike. In 1976 I could go a week without seeing another hiker let alone another hiker doing a thru hike. In 2010 I found the trail to be crowded until I got past Harpers Ferry. Down south the shelters were almost always full, the privies overflowing, and many of the hostels were full. I hiked for a while with someone in 2010 who had thru hiked in 1977 and 1983. He often complained about how crowded the trail was now. We would reminisce about the good ole days. If you ask a hiker today the only reality they may know is the trail they are experiencing today. So to them the trail may not seem overcrowded. If the trail is overcrowded and this is a problem, I don't know the solution. The genie is already out of the bottle. If someone has planned or dreamed to thru hike the AT crowds are probably not going to discourage them. Alternative itineraries may be a way to spread out the numbers.
    More walking, less talking.

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    The OP should have written journalism student in the subject line, not journalist.

    But keep in mind this is for his class, not an internship at a paper (unless the story becomes used for that), so I'm not sure of the harm here. Young writers have to start somewhere.
    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing​ and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. --Rumi

  7. #7

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    Seems to me a decent journalism student could write from their own perspective on the questions and opinion they are asking about. Why use anecdotes from others, which may or may not be overblown, when ones own experience would be more empirical and as a result more accurate to the issues being discussed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Traveler View Post
    Seems to me a decent journalism student could write from their own perspective on the questions and opinion they are asking about. Why use anecdotes from others, which may or may not be overblown, when ones own experience would be more empirical and as a result more accurate to the issues being discussed.
    That would be great for a column, but for a general news story, he would have to bring in other opinions.
    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing​ and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. --Rumi

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    "Do you think the Appalachian Trail has become overcrowded? Please describe why or why not?"

    I thrued in 2011, starting on March 13 and I would not describe what I found as crowded overall. There were however a few occasions were it was crowded at the shelters but I could always find a place to camp by myself if I wanted to.

    Since most of the overcrowding complaints are in Georgia I'll comment on the my hike in the first state from information from my Trail Journal (online)

    1. Stover Creek Shelter. There were 4 other people at the shelter.
    2. Gooch Mt. Shelter. I state "big crowd at the shelter tonight". If I recall there were about 20 people there but this is a large site with plenty of room.
    3. Woods Hole Shelter. I don't comment on others at the shelter but don't recall it being crowded.
    4. White Oak Stamp. Camped along the trail by myself.
    5. Blue Mountain Shelter. One other hiker.
    6. Sassafras Campsite. Camped by myself.
    7. Stayed in town.
    8. Crossed into GA and stayed at Muskrat Creek Shelter. Big crowd there.

    So out of my 8 days hiking in GA two of the shelter sites I stayed at were described as "crowded", two had 4 or less hikers, I was by myself at two unofficial campsites. Also one shelter I don't comment on at all but believe it was uncrowded, there was one town stay.

    Hope this helps.
    "Chainsaw" GA-ME 2011

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by soilman View Post
    Yes in my opinion the trail is overcrowded. I base this on comparison of my 1976 SOBO hike to my 2010 NOBO thru hike. In 1976 I could go a week without seeing another hiker let alone another hiker doing a thru hike. In 2010 I found the trail to be crowded until I got past Harpers Ferry. Down south the shelters were almost always full, the privies overflowing, and many of the hostels were full. I hiked for a while with someone in 2010 who had thru hiked in 1977 and 1983. He often complained about how crowded the trail was now. We would reminisce about the good ole days. If you ask a hiker today the only reality they may know is the trail they are experiencing today. So to them the trail may not seem overcrowded. If the trail is overcrowded and this is a problem, I don't know the solution. The genie is already out of the bottle. If someone has planned or dreamed to thru hike the AT crowds are probably not going to discourage them. Alternative itineraries may be a way to spread out the numbers.
    As with every other topic, we discuss things without definition, kind of a weakness on our part; I think it's mostly emotions talking.

    You bring up a good point in that it's true that the AT has far more hikers today than in the 1970's; however, does that mean it's overcrowded? What is overcrowded? I tend to see it the way others have stated, in that the trail is by and large uncrowded, except for a few places where there's a flood/bottleneck.


    If the numbers stayed at the 1970's (and even '80's) numbers, wouldn't then be the problem one of under use? Wouldn't the AT have less public support?

    I would say that overflowing privies are not an indicator of overcrowding, rather simply a result of increased use, but not overcrowding.

  11. #11

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    There is too much common sense in the responses to this thread. Where are the unfounded fears and crazy rants to which I have become accustomed?


    Datto

  12. #12

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    Here's a photo from my 2014 thru hike taken on top of Mt. Madison in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

    The facebook link doesn't work on my browser, but using an image from Madison (or any major above treeline summit) in the whites is not indicative of crowding as thruhikers are a very small minority of the folks on the trail. Considering that Madison Hut is 5 minutes away from the summit and has an occupancy of around 80 (that's a guess I couldn't find it quickly), thru hikers are not the main overcrowding issue in the whites. Get a shot from Moxie Bald or the Baldpates and possibly the Horn on Saddleback and I expect the majority of the day will be no one in frame.

  13. #13

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    You must be taking a journalism class as an elective. Framing your paper around cut and paste quotes from nutty coots on Whiteblaze sure is easier than actual thought and investigation. If your college major actually is journalism, print out what I have written in italics below, have a double matte and frame made up and take that framed quote with you all throughout your upcoming career adventure in journalism:

    I took a speed reading course and read War And Peace in twenty minutes. It's about Russia.

    - Woody Allen


    You're focused on Jurek. He's a nobody -- a trail runner, not a hiker, who's merely a blip on the dusty current horizon. You're way out at the fringes of the story, not anywhere close to the meat. But cut and paste sure is easy -- I would have used that tool myself when I was in college so I coulda got back to beer drinkin' more quickly.

    If I was your class instructor and you needed help getting started on your paper I would point you to the front page of the Millinocket, Maine newspaper for one week or so either side of October 13, 2000. Along with that I would have you expend the shoe leather to dig out and watch The Today Show for a few days on the front side of August 8, 2000. As an oblique reference, you might even read up on the Magna Carta and download then watch the movie "All The President's Men". It's about underground garages.

    Anderson Cooper on World Politics: I flew all the way to this God-awful country of Egypt and somebody hit me in the head. So I ran for my life. Sup wit these people Wolf?

    Wolf: There you have it. Proof positive Egyptians don't like white hair.


    Datto

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    Registered User dudeijuststarted's Avatar
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    no. people should go see for themselves.

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    If it were over-crowded more folks would seek out hiking Great Eastern Trail. That suggests crowds are part of the reason for many.

  16. #16

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    After doing basic backgound research (i.e., work for someone in journalism) and you get to the point of starting analysis, ask yourself this:

    Why would the numbers for AT thru-hikers be inflated to the point of being laughable?

    What's the angle? Who's to gain what? Why go to the trouble? If you're in journalism, those are always the questions to ask when something doesn't pass the sniff test.

    Compare those questions to the list of urges causing people to do bad. If you're in journalism a list of those urges should already be permanently affixed to the folds of your brain. Articles about those urges drive readership and sell advertising. It also makes $27,000 per year journalists world famous and invited to cocktail parties.

    LIttle pinkies up.


    Datto

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Here's a photo from my 2014 thru hike taken on top of Mt. Madison in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

    The facebook link doesn't work on my browser, but using an image from Madison (or any major above treeline summit) in the whites is not indicative of crowding as thruhikers are a very small minority of the folks on the trail. Considering that Madison Hut is 5 minutes away from the summit and has an occupancy of around 80 (that's a guess I couldn't find it quickly), thru hikers are not the main overcrowding issue in the whites. Get a shot from Moxie Bald or the Baldpates and possibly the Horn on Saddleback and I expect the majority of the day will be no one in frame.
    There were two or three dozen hikers on the summit of Baldpate when Slo and I were there in Sept. '14. Mostly peakbaggers. Gorgeous day, peak foliage, can't blame them for wanting to be there. We were doing the Grafton Loop Trail (eastern half.) Once we left the AT portion, we had the trail to ourselves.

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    The trail was meant to serve the populations of the major east coast cities along its length. Ie., millions of people. Thru hikers at best are somewhere between 1/100 and 1/1000 of the overall traffic.

    There's overcrowding at many of the beauty spots, for example, McAfee Knob. That's not the fault of thru hikers.

    There's overcrowding that's part of the northbound herd leaving Springer every year. That's strictly a (NOBO) thru-hiker thing.

    And even so, you can walk for miles, and sometimes for days, without seeing another soul. So, all is not lost...

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    When I summited Katahdin on September 7th there were two thru-hikers at the sign, myself and one other and about 10 day hikers.
    The AT can be crowded in places but those places (like shelters) can be avoided.
    "Chainsaw" GA-ME 2011

  20. #20

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    Thanks to everyone for lending their perspectives on this!

    I'm a bit confused by some of the conversation questioning my journalistic integrity/abilities...but I guess that's to be expected within the depths of the deep, dark internet forum.

    That said, for those who responded to my obviously simplistic question, I'm thankful for your opinion, regardless of what it is. Hopefully this story will portray a variety of opinions and perspectives...very little This is but a small part of a much larger story, and I'll be sure to let you know if I use any of your answers.

    That said, anyone who is willing to be part of a side-bar tangential to the main body of my story, I'd appreciate it if you'd send me an email at [email protected] and include a hiking photo, your real name, and your trail name.

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