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December 2 Update on the A.T. and the Southern Fires

by Ron Tipton, ATC Executive Director/CEO

Header image courtesy of Chris Higgins, http://chrishigginsphoto.com, Instagram @chrishigginsphoto.

Dec. 2, 2016 - Over the last few weeks, fires have raged across the southern Appalachian Mountains and the Appalachian Trail from Georgia up to central Virginia, and many major fires are still burning. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the many people dealing with the loss of life, homes, businesses and other property. We also want to thank the brave firefighters from all over the country who have joined the fight to protect the region and the Trail from further damage.

Many of you have inquired about the status of the A.T. in those areas where fires came close to or even crossed the Trail.

What we know:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed the 71.2 miles of the A.T. within the Park.
  • Fires crossed 31 miles of the A.T. in a stretch from the northern edge of GA into southern NC.
  • The A.T. is closed from Dicks Creek Gap/U.S. 76 in GA (mile 69.9) to the Nantahala River/U.S. 19/U.S. 74 in NC (mile 137.1).
  • The A.T. is closed from U.S. 60 (mile 806.1) to Saltlog Gap, VA (mile 814.6).

Chimney Top 2 FireCurrently, due to safety concerns, authorities have not cleared those sections for ATC Staff and Trail Clubs to assess the damage. We hope to be able to perform this assessment as soon as possible.

We do know this: there will be numerous hazard trees to cut down; shelters will need to be repaired or rebuilt entirely; water bars and cribbing will need to be installed; and, with the loss of a great deal of underbrush, the possibility of significant erosion and even mudslides will exist.

In short, we have a great deal of work ahead of us.

What can you do to help? The best thing to do now is to make a donation to the ATC — click here to visit our donation page. We will use your contribution to assess the damage and ​​implement repairs to the Trail in the affected areas. Your generous donation will also fund our ongoing efforts to preserve and protect the Appalachian Trail hiking experience from Georgia to Maine.

We will continue to update you as new information develops.

Thank you,

Ron Tipton
Executive Director/CEO


For updates on Appalachian Trail conditions, visit appalachiantrail.org/updates.








8 comments

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  1. ann grooms | Dec 05, 2016
    planning to do konnarack again, 3rd year, so want to know schedule and leaders asap  thanks  Ann
  2. Fred | Dec 05, 2016
    Is there any maps available showing exactly what sections were burnt and which huts/tent sites were impacted?  I am planning on a through hike in 2017 and would like to firm up my plans.

    Thank you,
    Fred
  3. Thru-Thinker (Clark Wright) | Dec 04, 2016
    I have hiked in these areas for 50 years now.  First, my heart breaks for those who lost loved ones, homes and businesses.  Hikers sometimes joked about the commercialism of Gatlinburg, but when I hiked through in 2001, I saw great warmth and friendliness from the locals - yet another example of good old fashioned southern hospitality.  Thoughts and prayers are with all who were hit by the fires.  Second, we all need to be alert for those who - for reasons I cannot fathom - intentionally set fires, or are totally careless about leaving a fire unattended or not fully extinguished.  Practice safe fire habits yourself, encourage others to do so, and if you see someone suspicious or being "fire stupid" think seriously about alerting a local ranger.  Finally, with regard to those worried about future trips to these areas, I am confident that we will know a lot more shortly, and that the combination of awesome AT volunteers and the amazing healing powers of nature will soon make these areas safe to explore and enjoy once again.  Great comment by Jacob about the wisdom of looking up before choosing your tent or sleeping bag or hammock site.  A good tip is to always lay down your groundcloth or sleeping pad and lie down to test your potential tent/camp site.  Lying down lets you feel the slope of the ground, locate any rocks or roots that might make an impression on your body during the night, AND allows you to look up and evaluate any dead trees or limbs in the area.  Good practice every time you prepare for setting up your tent or sleeping site.  Finally, consider a year end donation to ATC to help this amazing organization, which has tens of thousands of volunteers helping each and every year, devote the resources needed to asses, repair and reopen these beautiful portions of the Trail!
  4. CHRISTOPHER | Dec 03, 2016
    On behalf of numerous SOBOs who have recently summitted Springer I would like to know does the ATC have an official position regarding miles that they had to skip due to the fire hazards? In other words are they still official considered thru-hikers?  Thanks!
  5. George Rue | Dec 03, 2016
    Thank you Ron for keeping us updated about the fires. I know that a lot is "up in the air" about what will need to be done to clean up the debris and repair the trails. But has the ATC already started to coordinate volunteers to work with the Trail Crews in the area? Please let me know - I would love to pitch in and join the Konnarock, Rocky Top, or SWEAT volunteer groups. In the meanwhile I will keep watching the "Trail Updates" page. 
    Best,
    George
  6. Jordan @ ATC | Dec 02, 2016
    Hey Uncle Pecos,

    We aren't currently discouraging anyone from attempting a thru-hike next year, but we also don't have a firm estimate of when these fires may be contained or extinguished. Be sure to keep an eye on our Trail Updates page and social media for updates on A.T. conditions.

    As far as dangers on the Trail, we always encourage prioritizing situational awareness — keep an eye out for any hazard trees before setting up camp. True at any time, hikers should always look up to make sure they are not camping under a tree or limb that looks like it could fall. Although mudslides have occurred on the A.T. in the South, they are quite rare. We are not aware of anyone having been seriously injured in a mudslide on the A.T., although one person has died from a falling tree, and a few people have been injured by falling trees or limbs.

    That being said, the fires have presented ​unprecedented circumstances, so the potential for mudslides could be higher due to large areas of burned trees — with fewer trees, there is less root infrastructure holding the soil together. Extreme erosion could occur unexpectedly. When we and our partners (U.S. Forest Service, A.T. Trail Clubs, etc.) are able to investigate these areas, we will analyze them for potential landslide dangers and advise hikers to practice extreme caution in these areas. If necessary, reroutes will be put into place to avoid high-risk areas altogether.

    All of this is hypothetical right now — we will to have more information to share once we are able to enter the affected areas and survey the condition of the land.
  7. Uncle Pecos | Dec 02, 2016
    With all due respect for the more important issues at hand should people currently planning a 2017 nobo of the AT modify plans and what new safety measures should be taken by a hiker to avoid dead fall or mudslides 
  8. Eddie Gillespie | Dec 02, 2016
    Thank you guys and the clubs and maintenance crews for all your hard work. It's a shame that these pieces of scum who start these fires exist. I wish I could donate but I am barely surviving myself. Maybe someday I can get with a maintenance crew and help out.

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