Responding to COVID-19
An Update for 2020 A.T. Hikers
May 11, 2020
Dear A.T. Hikers,
We at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) have a profound appreciation for the respect you have shown the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) and its broader community by staying off the Trail.
Our guidance for hikers to postpone or cancel their A.T. hikes currently remains in place and will be in effect until we can determine the safest way and time to return. To help ensure we develop this guidance as quickly and completely as possible, we have convened a task force. This work is well underway, and we look forward to sharing more on its progress soon.
The task force is considering the safety and health of not only hikers, but volunteers, staff and nearby communities (including their search and rescue teams). They are also considering guidance from Trail-managing partners, nearby communities, health experts and the various statewide and A.T. closures currently in place. More information about the task force’s process and structure can be found in an announcement made last week, which was posted to the ATC’s blog: Our Next Steps for Re-Engaging with the Trail.
In the meantime, many of you are considering alternative options to return to the Trail: for thru-hikers, this might include embarking on a southbound or flip flop hike later in the season; for day or overnight hikers, this might include proceeding with hiking plans as usual, anticipating that the Trail might be a more isolated place. Before deciding whether you will resume your journey on the A.T., it is important to understand the many obstacles to hiking right now (and for the foreseeable future). There are restrictions in place in almost all of the fourteen states the Trail passes through, including fourteen-day mandatory quarantines in multiple states and official closures affecting almost 1,000 miles of the Trail. More than 100 shelters on the Trail are closed; those that are open are locations where COVID-19 could potentially be contracted on contaminated surfaces or spread due to inadequate physical distancing. In addition, we continue to receive reports that resupply options and transportation to and from the Trail are exceptionally challenging and — in some areas — almost impossible. For day and overnight hikers, crowds at popular areas make practicing social distancing difficult, increasing the chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
The management of the Trail is complicated, even in the best of times. There are many organizations maintaining, managing and protecting the A.T., and coordination requires extensive planning and takes time. Normally, all this work behind the scenes is invisible and hikers can enjoy a simple footpath in the wilderness without having to be concerned with all the complexities it takes to make that experience a reality. When an unprecedented pandemic displaces normal priorities in a way that few could foresee, these complexities become more apparent to everyone.
More information about A.T. closures related to COVID-19 and the ATC’s guidance to hikers can be found at www.appalachiantrail.org/COVID-19. We will post updates there as soon as we have them and will notify registered hikers as well.
We also want to reassure thru-hikers who got off the Trail between January 1 and March 31 this year will have twelve additional months to complete their thru-hikes from the time they resume their hikes after the ATC has issued an announcement that the time is right to return.
We appreciate your patience as the task force makes its determinations and the ATC works to protect the Trail itself so that it’s ready to receive visitors when it is safe for all to do so. We miss the Trail, too, and if we all continue to look out for our collective safety and health in this challenging time, we will hasten our return to the Trail we all love.
With sincerest gratitude,
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Team
Stay up-to-date on the latest news and guidance on COVID-19 and the Appalachian Trail at appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.