Ridge Runner Education Program
MATC places three Ridge Runners along the Appalachian Trail, in Maine, from May – October. The Ridgerunners reach approximately 10,000 people each year with backcountry knowledge, skills and ethics. They are based at high-use recreational destinations including Gulf Hagas “the Grand Canyon of Maine”, as well as Saddleback and Bigelow Mountains among the “4,000 footers” in the high peaks of western Maine.
The Ridge Runners live and work along the trail where they serve as the eyes and ears on the ground. Their responsibilities are to: teach people backcountry camping and hiking skills; patrol busy campsites, summits and trails; monitor for threats to alpine plants, wildlife habitat, and water resources; mitigate fire impacts; and discourage rowdy behavior, littering and waste deposits. They impart skills like how to hang a bear bag, ford a river, read a map, dig a “cat hole,” identify alpine plants, and use a gray water pit.
The Ridge Runners focus in particular on young people in organized groups as well as long distance backpackers. They work to reduce impacts through the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics principles. Leave No Trace, LNT, is an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors.
Ridge Runner Locations
Bigelow Mountain is part of the 36,000 acre Bigelow Preserve which is owned by the State of Maine. The range includes 17-miles of the A.T. and 11-miles of official A.T. side trails. Bigelow Mountain is a popular hike and is heavily used by youth groups, hardy day hikers and long distance backpackers.
From May to October, MATC’s Bigelow Ridgerunner lives in a tent at Horns Pond campsite on the edge of a sub-alpine pond and spends considerable time on summits. Horns Pond campsite can host 50 overnight visitors. The Ridgerunner works with all visitors and focuses on youth in organized groups and long distance backpackers. The Ridgerunner prepares visitors from Horns Pond campsites for their hikes into the alpine zone.
On Bigelow Mountain’s West and Avery peaks impacts to alpine plants from hikers are the primary concern. The Ridgerunner shares knowledge about rare, vulnerable plants which are uniquely adapted to the rugged alpine environment – intense wind and sun, thin soil, and a short growing season. Using the Saddleback and Bigelow Mountain Alpine Guide the Ridgerunner teaches people how to identify and protect alpine and sub-alpine plants through preparedness and backcountry hiking and camping skills. Specifically, by: hiking in small groups; preparing for weather conditions and emergencies; packing tents, stoves and other essential gear; traveling on durable surfaces (trails, inorganic soils, rock, deep snow); keeping dogs leashed; and using designated toilets, or if a privy is not available packing-out poop and toilet paper or burying waste in a 6-inch “cat-hole” well below tree-line. The Ridgerunner dissuades people from camping in the alpine zone or lighting fires (both are illegal on these mountain summits).
The Ridgerunner patrols the trails and campsites below tree-line as well and teaches Leave No Trace knowledge, skills and ethics throughout the Bigelow Preserve.
The Saddleback Ridgerunner is fortunate to encounter all abilities of hikers at this site, and has many opportunities to speak with visiting overnight camps and college orientation groups about the Leave No Trace philosophy. Piazza Rock sits at the base of the majestic Saddleback Mountain Range. More experienced hikers will pass through the Piazza Rock site focused on the summit of Saddleback Mountain, a 4,130′ summit, or the Horn, a 4,041′ summit beyond.
The Saddleback Ridgerunner is responsible for ridge-running across some of the most physically strenuous and visually stunning miles on the Appalachian Trail. The location of the tent platform offers the caretaker a certain degree of privacy and a comfortable, quiet place at the end of the day.
The Piazza Rock site is one that offers hikers of all agilities the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. The actual Piazza Rock is a flat-topped, large, overhanging rock tucked away amongst forest trees. If hikers choose, they have the option to engage in some beginner bouldering and make their way up to the top of the rock. Once on top, the hiker encounters a unique, miniature alpine zone.
Gulf Hagas, a National Natural Landmark in the “100-mile wilderness”, is in the northern 4/5 of the AT in Maine. The Gulf is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”. It includes an eight-mile loop trail showcasing four waterfalls, dozens of cascades, pools, and a deep gorge. Visitors hike the trails, swim and fish. The Gulf trails link to the AMC lands, and the Appalachian Trail attracting a variety of both long and short distance hikers.
Gulf Hagas sees a large volume of day use crowds (approx. 5,000 each summer), many are unprepared. Some tourists come in street clothes and flip flops unaware that their first task is to cross a major stream and then hike a strenuous eight-mile loop with steep and eroding stream banks, waterfalls and gorges. Before a Ridgerunner presence emergency rescues and lost persons were common.
The MATC Ridgerunner is placed at the Gulf to focus on hiker safety, as well as environmental protection and Leave No Trace. The Ridgerunner patrols the eight-mile loop trail through the Gulf, as well as 14 miles to the south (the Barren and Chair Back Range) and 11 miles to the north (Whitecap Range) into the alpine zone . The Ridgerunner models and teaches Leave No Trace knowledge, ethics and skills, interacting with a large volume of visitors. The Ridgerunner provides a daily management presence on AT lands, deterring environmental impact, illegal fires, lost persons, hiker injuries and illicit behavior.
Thank you to the following organizations for
their financial supportof the Ridgerunner program!
Bureau of Parks and Lands
Davis Conservation Fund
Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund
The Onion Foundation
Waterman Stewardship Fund