PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An ultramarathoner who set the speed record for completing the Appalachian Trail paid a $500 fine Wednesday to settle citations over his celebration atop Maine's Mount Katahdin that struck a nerve with park officials worried about crowding and commercialization of the historic footpath.
Scott Jurek got into trouble with park rangers when he popped a bottle of Champagne while surrounded by a group of supporters in July after completing the 2,189-mile trail from Georgia to Maine in 46 days, eight hours. A ranger later cited him for public drinking, littering and hiking in an oversized group.
A district judge in Millinocket signed off Wednesday on an agreement between his lawyer and the district attorney in which Jurek paid a fine for public drinking. The other citations were dropped.
Jurek, who wasn't in court, said afterward that he was unfairly singled out by park rangers to set an example for other hikers.
The Colorado runner said he never once littered while passing through 14 states and said a friend brought the Champagne to the summit of Maine's tallest mountain after first checking with a park ranger.
"They made it sound like I was partying at the top of the summit with a bunch of college students," said Jurek, who said his friend surprised him with the bubbly and that he didn't know he was violating park rules. Two rangers who watched the entire gathering on the mountain's summit never intervened, he added.
The growing number of hikers on the Appalachian Trail has become a management problem at Baxter State Park, which operates under strict rules to maintain the vision of the park's donor. Park officials were concerned that Jurek's corporate sponsorship, throngs of supporters and celebration took away from the wilderness experience.
The late Percival Baxter donated the land with the understanding that it'd be managed in line with his vision of "forever wild" with no hunting, lumbering, hotels, advertising or "trappings of unpleasant civilization."
Jensen Bissell, director of the Baxter State Park Authority, which manages the 100,000-acre park that includes Katahdin, has warned that the trail's northern terminus may need to be moved if things don't change.
But he hopes that there can be an agreement with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and National Park Service to limit the number of people using the trail. The Baxter Park Authority will be meeting later this fall, he said, and it's likely that the authority will try to set a timeframe for coming up with a workable solution.
Walter McKee, Jurek's attorney, maintains the situation was blown out of proportion and said "thru hikers" — those who're hiking the trail from start to finish — account for only a fraction of people on Mount Katahdin.
He also said it's a good thing that more people in an increasingly sedentary society want to get outdoors.
"Part of Percival Baxter's legacy was that people should be enjoying the park, getting outside and being part of the outdoors that he so dearly loved," McKee said.
Jurek, for his part, said he felt that he embodied Baxter's spirit and ideals. "I think Percival Baxter would've congratulated me on my accomplishment," he said.
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