From Appalachian Trail Conservancy Bulletin 6/16/2020
With more states relaxing stay-at-home restrictions and more sections of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) reopening, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is due for a check-in with the hiking community and wanted to provide the latest status update for the A.T.
As of today, all but 5.2 miles of the A.T. have re-opened, leaving only the northernmost A.T. miles on Katahdin closed (which is expected to open July 1). In our previous email, we listed three criteria any one of which, if met, would cause the ATC to re-evaluate its guidance. We are close to meeting one of these criteria: that all official closures on the A.T. resulting from the pandemic are removed.
However, some complications also exist:
- Overnight camping challenges: The entirety of the A.T. in two states (New Jersey and Massachusetts) remains closed to all overnight camping. All designated overnight sites remain closed in Vermont and New Hampshire with legal and sustainable dispersed camping sites in those states difficult to find. Additional sections of the A.T. in Maine and Pennsylvania remain closed to camping. Most shelters remain closed. Please be aware that in some areas, these closures have not been posted on the ground.
- New COVID-19 infections: While most states are seeing a downward trend in COVID-19 cases, some states are still mitigating the continued impact of the pandemic. Currently, a required or recommended 14-day quarantine remains in place in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for some or all visitors (with some caveats to shorten the quarantine length).
- Volunteer maintenance: The Trail is a volunteer-maintained resource and we are waiting for the federal government to approve protocols and sign new agreements to send volunteers back to the Trail. Volunteers have asked for the opportunity to catch up on a backlog of maintenance and clean-up before hikers are encouraged to hit the Trail, and we want to honor that.
Within the next few weeks, we believe it likely the ATC will recommend hikers, including thru-hikers, return to the Trail assuming there are no significant negative changes in the current trends.
For thru-hikers planning a modified hike plan after a long-delayed start, a southbound thru-hike (where a June or July start is typical) is not necessarily the best alternative. Not only is this — by far — the most difficult way to start a thru-hike; this year there are even more logistical challenges in getting to and into Baxter State Park, including reduced overnight capacity in a park that is completely booked much of the summer. This year has also been a late-snow year, so removal of blowdowns and other spring maintenance in rugged and challenging terrain will be even further delayed.
Once our recommendations change, thru-hikers can start or resume their hikes anywhere. We encourage thru-hikers to self-disperse, which will help minimize impacts to the Trail and volunteers and help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Also, thru-hikers who left the Trail in March and stayed off to reduce the spread of the virus will have an additional 12 months to complete their thru-hikes once they resume their hikes, after we’ve given the okay to return. We emphasize all thru-hikers on the A.T. be as self-reliant as possible, staying away from shelters, privies, and other public facilities and carry a personal shelter, a bear canister, and equipment for proper catholing. Check our website for tips on thru-hiking and selecting a start location.
We will communicate any updates as soon as decisions are made. In the meantime, we invite you to monitor our A.T. Closures page and Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus New Case Trends By State.