Should the Appalachian Trail Be Closed During the Pandemic?

Last week the NY Times published an article looking at all sides of thruhiking the AT during the coronavirus pandemic. Many if not most thruhikers left the trail in March as news of the seriousness of the virus and its effect on the country began trickling through the AT wireless. But not all did, with many feeling that the backcountry is the perfect place to sit out, or walk through, rather, a pandemic.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy asked hikers to stay away, though it was not a decision made lightly. The livelihoods of thousands of locals along the trails 2,000-plus mile length was in the balance. Hostel owners in towns that dot the route, restaurants, gear shops, bars, people that collect an income helping out hikers along the way in many forms all stand to lose an entire season’s income.

“I’m willing to bet we’ll see 50 percent of hostels along the trail will close,” Odie Norman, a trail angel who piloted a bus along the length of roads paralleling the trail, offering aid to hikers in need, told the NY Times.

Some hostel owners have taken jobs at Walmart or delivering pizzas, as their income from hikers has dwindled to nothing.

Other hostel and business owners that support hikers feel a duty to serve those still on the trail, some of which are from overseas and can’t easily get back home. So, they stay open, watching their financial reserves crater.

While many of the remaining hikers are making efforts to practice social distancing, wear masks when they pass through towns, or avoid towns altogether, some take affront to what’s become a politically charged safeguard and simply refuse to wear a mask or behave as if anything is different.

The ramifications of shelter-in-place orders on an experience like the AT, which, of all the great American thruhikes, involves far more physical proximity to other hikers in the form of shelters, hostels, quick trips to town, and a general sense of community and camaraderie, make the decision to hike or avoid the trail far more complicated than it might at first seem.

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Photo: AT, Madalyn Cox



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