ATC Begins Planning for Hikers’ Safe Return to Appalachian Trail

In March 2020, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) advised all visitors and volunteers to stay away from the Appalachian Trail. Increased visitor use made social distancing practically impossible and the potential to spread COVID-19 to other Trail visitors and vulnerable Trailside communities — and beyond — posed grave risks. Subsequent stay-at-home orders in most Trail states, numerous national park and national forest closures on the A.T., and hundreds of reported COVID-19 infections in counties along the Trail reinforced ATC’s guidance.

This was a difficult decision for those seeking the benefits of the A.T. experience, including many who had planned section and thru-hikes this year, and the ATC greatly appreciate your assistance in helping prevent the spread of this dangerous virus.

Now over a month has passed since making this request, and many have asked an important question: when will it be safe to return to the Trail?

For now, the guidance is still in effect. The ATC urges everyone — visitors, volunteers and Trailside community residents alike — to stay off the A.T. to keep both the Trail and its broader community safe and healthy.

However, as several states have begun lifting or are planning to lift stay-at-home orders, the ATC has convened a task force to develop guidance on how A.T. visitors can re-engage safely with the Trail. This task force is comprised of representatives from the ATC’s staff, federal and state agency partners, trail maintaining clubs, A.T. Communities, local leaders and medical experts and will incorporate perspectives from those groups.

The task force will adopt several guiding principles as it develops a decision-making framework for staff, volunteers and Trail visitors:

The task force’s top priority will be the safety and health of ATC staff, volunteers, agency partners, Trail visitors and adjacent communities.
The task force will adopt an evidence-based approach, relying on the best science available.
The task force will account for the unique characteristics of the A.T. and develop guidance that is specific to the A.T. and the broader Trail community.
The task force will consider the policies of federal and state partners as well as restrictions and closures implemented at the local, state and federal levels.
The task force aims to deliver guidance that can be used broadly by the entire Trail community. Whether you are a volunteer who wants to complete Trail maintenance or a hiker who hopes to experience the beauty, inspiration and connection to nature found on the A.T., they want to make sure you have the information you need to stay safe and healthy.

The ATC wants to ensure they can, in the future, access the A.T.’s myriad values safely and responsibly. For the time being, they ask for your continued patience as they determine the best possible way forward.

Sandra Marra
President & CEO
Appalachian Trail Conservancy

 

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