Study: How Appalachian Trail Is Affected By Its Own Popularity

A team of scientists is camping on the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia this week, studying how it’s affected by its own popularity.

Georgia has one of the busiest stretches of the more than 2,000-mile trail, said Jeff Marion, who studies recreation ecology at the U.S. Geological Survey and Virginia Tech.

Since the trail begins in Georgia, there can be a lot of people on it around the same time as they begin the hike to Maine, he said.

“If you do have 100 or so people starting every day, then you need a fairly large number of campsites to accommodate all those people,” said Marion.

And the trail in Georgia can be more affected than in other places because a lot of hikers who meant to go the whole way end up dropping off earlier. And many people are inexperienced when they start out; they don’t necessarily know how to minimize their effects on the trail and campsites.

Marion and his team are measuring the condition of the trail itself, and also campsites and shelters. And they’re looking at heavily used areas by both thru-hikers and day-hikers, like vistas and swimming holes. They’re also looking at building campsites in different ways, to see if that minimizes some of the damage.

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