As we all continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic in our own lives, the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust wanted to keep all our supporters and hikers informed about the status of our Community Hikes program for the summer season. Outdoor activity is proving to be a great option for all of us since it’s safe, free and healthy. We encourage all of you to find places that you can easily travel to and recreate as the weather improves.
At this time, the Community Hikes program continues to be on hold pending an easing of restrictions on the Appalachian Trail and an easing of transmission of cases of COVID-19. The chief concern is the safety of hikers, staff, volunteers, first responders and the communities we travel to and depend on when heading into the backcountry. There are also other issues which can’t be avoided at this time.
- Carpooling and trailhead access. Carpooling is a big part of our Community Hikes program and with social distancing guidelines in place, this is not possible. Not only is the environmental impact greater when you have nine cars traveling instead of three, but many of the trailheads we use would not be able to accomodate more than a few vehicles. With so many others starting to hike, there is a real risk of trailhead parking areas filling up before our groups arrive.
- Crowding on the trail. Social distancing is difficult to maintain on narrow paths and is even more difficult to maintain in large groups. Gathering places on the A.T. in Maine are often small and activities like lunch and rest breaks would be difficult on some sections of trail. Finally, lending a helping hand to others would be impossible.
- Safety. Hiking is a physical activity and we need to lend each other a hand – to help somebody up over a scramble, get a water bottle out of a pack, or lend a band-aid. Currently, we can’t really do any of those things due to transmission risk. In the unlikely event that outside help was needed from search and rescue personnel, all of those individuals would be similarly put at risk. One person could potentially impact the safety of twenty or more people who have come to that person’s aid.
- Community impact. Many communities in Maine have an older demographic and due to size, they will not be able to accommodate many visitors. Restrooms will be closed or limited, stores will be limiting access due to space issues, and public health facilities can quickly become overwhelmed if there is a rescue or other event. Pulling resources away from towns at a time when they need them most does them a disservice.
Finally, on a brighter note, we wanted to extend our great thanks to our supporters and all of you who help make the Appalachian Trail the amazing place that it is. For the first time in five years the Maine A.T. Land Trust will not be out with you on the A.T. in Maine this summer. We are hopeful that the Community Hikes program will be back up and running again at a future date! Check this space for info. As soon as it’s safe, we can have hikes starting as soon as the weekend after.
For A.T. closure updates, please continue to check Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s update page.