Baxter State Park pushes back on rising number of Appalachian Trail ‘thru-hikers’

“Sputnik” had just emerged from the most remote stretch of the Appalachian Trail – 100 miles of Maine “wilderness” with no stores, towns or even paved roads – when he paused to consider a different ending to the life-changing trek he was about to complete.

Behind him lay 2,170 miles worth of footsteps stretching from Georgia to this spot on Abol Bridge offering two images of Mount Katahdin: one rising out of the forests, and the other reflected in the water of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Ahead of “Sputnik” – Jesse Metzger’s trail name, chosen by other Appalachian Trail “thru-hikers” because of the Russian appearance of his winter cap – was 10 miles of wooded trail followed by the momentous 5-mile climb to the peak that’s been his destination since Feb. 25.

But Katahdin could be just another mountain to future users of the trail known to legions of hikers as simply “the AT.” Baxter State Park officials, upset with the behavior of a relatively small number of hikers and facing growing challenges accommodating the Katahdin-bound thru-hikers, are pressuring local and national groups affiliated with the AT to address their concerns or potentially find another northern terminus of the trail.

“That would be seen as a very big deal,” Sputnik said while glancing toward the 5,267-foot peak. “It’s quite an icon, as you can see.”

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