While self-quarantining prevents citizens from going out to public places, including dining, shopping and entertainment, many Americans are hitting local parks and trails for some active distancing — but clearly more than a few had the same idea.
After multiple lengths of the Appalachian Trail saw large crowds this weekend, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy issued guidance, asking all hikers to postpone upcoming visits to the popular trail until risks of spreading COVID-19 have diminished.
In a letter to the Appalachian Trail hiking community, ATC President & CEO Sandra Marra addressed the issue of practicing social distancing, even on such popular hiking trails as the Appalachian Trail, as the risk of unknowingly contracting and spreading the virus is still high.
“In a time when social distancing is necessary to minimize the spread and contraction of a dangerous virus, many have escaped to nature seeking isolation and unpopulated spaces,” said Marra in the letter. “On the Appalachian Trail, however, what they’ve found are trailhead parking lots exceeding their maximum capacities, shelters full of overnight hikers, day hikers using picnic tables and privies, and group trips continuing as planned. Hiking the A.T. has become, in other words, the opposite of social distancing.”
Marra also noted the high risk coronavirus poses to rural communities along the trail, where many hikers begin and end hikes — many of these quieter communities do not have healthcare resources equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak. Marra also noted ATC’s lack of staff and volunteers, who typically work to minimize environmental impacts from visitors.
“Many day hikers see the outdoors as an escape from the stresses of these difficult times,” she said. “But with crowding from day hikers reaching unmanageable levels and the lack of any staff or volunteers to manage this traffic, it is necessary that all hikers avoid accessing the Trail.”
The A.T. is one of the most popular in the world and sees more than 3 million visitors each year. The trail sees approximately 3,000–4,000 hikers each year attempting to traverse the “thru-hike” from Maine to Georgia, or vice versa, totaling 2,193 miles in one calendar year.
“There is an unfortunate truth about this virus: unless everyone is safe, no one is safe,” said Marra.
Click here to read the full letter and for more COVID-19 information and its effects on the A.T.
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