A post office described as a lifeline for residents of a tiny village and hikers traveling the Appalachian Trail is expected to close in May as part of the U.S. Postal Service's attempt to avoid bankruptcy.
The independent Postal Regulatory Commission on Thursday upheld the Postal Service's October decision to close the office in Glencliff, in the White Mountains. The village has fewer than 100 residents but sees a spike in activity each summer when hikers traveling from Georgia to Maine pass through, stopping to collect food and supplies.
In a letter to the commission, the director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy said Glencliff "is probably the most important" of the 19 post offices within a half-mile of the 2,181-mile trail.
"The general delivery service available at Glencliff allows hikers to send not only food to themselves but the additional cold-weather gear needed in a traverse of the White Mountains," director David Startzell wrote.
The Postal Service answered that hikers have other avenues to obtain postal services. Its review of the Glencliff post office's operations showed an average of 12 retail transactions per day. It estimates it will save $27,000 a year by closing the office and shifting business 5 miles away to Warren, a town of about 1,000 residents. But Glencliff residents argue that doing so will erode their community's identity and leave them no place to gather with neighbors.
"They don't care about the idea of place," said Maggie Carr, one of the petitioners who asked the Postal Service to reconsider its decision.
Though Glencliff residents who chose to set up post office boxes in Warren can still use the Glencliff name and ZIP code, those having their mail delivered will have Warren addresses, she said.
Carr, a 53-year-old freelance editor who moved to Glencliff from Boston 12 years ago, called the post office "the center of our little village."
"There's no place else where you see your neighbors on a daily basis," she said. "Our ex-postmaster was almost like the unofficial mayor of Glencliff. Everyone came to him with their problems."
Carr also welcomed the hikers, saying they bring an international flavor to the village, though she noted they sometimes overwhelm the post office's tiny lobby, about 5 feet by 11 feet.
"They kind of stink up the post office because they don't bathe very well," she said. "The (officer-in-charge) burns candles in the summertime and opens the windows."
The officer-in-charge is a postal employee who has been running the office since the last postmaster retired in 2010. She will return to her job in another town when the office closes, the commission said in its ruling.
The commission was evenly split on whether to uphold the Glencliff closure or send the case back for more review, but in the case of a tie the Postal Service's decision stands. Commission Chairwoman Ruth Goldway, in her dissent, said the Postal Service "glossed over" the fact that the post office provides unique and irreplaceable services to Appalachian Trail hikers and failed to gather input from them.
Besides offices like Glencliff that the Postal Service has ordered closed in the last year, it also has about 3,700 offices nationwide under review for closure, out of 32,000 postal-managed retail locations. But it recently agreed to wait until May 15 to begin closures so Congress can stabilize its finances first.
The public representative assigned by the commission to the Glencliff appeal, Rand Costich, said the Glencliff office almost certainly will close as soon as that moratorium expires.
The Postal Service, hard hit by declining mail volume and soaring costs of health benefits for future retirees, last week said it will run out of money by October unless it gets new leeway from Congress to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, raise stamp prices and reduce health and other labor costs. Prospects for immediate congressional action remain uncertain.