by Alivia Acosta
Safety on the Trail: Visitor Encounters
Recent events serve as constant reminders. Here are some thoughtful ways to be a positive presence for hikers, and tips for personal safety when serving as a volunteer.
Most hikers know that the A.T. is maintained by volunteers, but for the unaware visitor it could be startling to run into a person carrying unfamiliar tools. Consider wearing clothing that identifies you as a volunteer for the land management agency. Wearing a hard-hat or work-gloves also offer tell-tale signs of someone on an assigned task. In addition to your friendly smile and introduction as a volunteer, it also positions you as a resource and local expert on the terrain for any additional inquiries they may have.
Volunteers, working individually or as a group, can look to the Job Hazard Analysis for performing activities in the field, where there are specific considerations for minimizing one’s exposure to danger with public encounters, including knowing when not to approach. Remember, you are never at any obligation to approach or speak with trail visitors if you perceive your personal safety is at risk.
It’s a safety best-practice for volunteers not to work alone, and we realize that isn’t always possible. Consider that working in at least a group of two provides additional support in the event of an accident, and conveys to hikers a network of people who support the Trail while diffusing a sense of isolation for hikers when encountering someone wielding a grubbing mattock or pulaski in their work.
In the event that you encounter someone who is aggressive or physically threatening, or something of that nature is reported to you by a hiker, capture all pertinent information and immediately report any encounter deemed an emergency by calling 911.