Appalachian Trail officials visit Maine over hiker problems

AP News
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Posted: Oct 03, 2015 4:23 PM

BAXTER STATE PARK, Maine (AP) — Officials with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Park Service say they will work to address bad behavior by long-distance hikers that has caused tensions at Maine's Baxter State Park.

Trail representatives visited Maine Friday to discuss the problems.

The park is home to the 2,190-mile trail's final summit on Mount Katahdin. Officials say a growing number of thru-hikers have been flouting park rules by openly using drugs and drinking alcohol and camping where it's not permitted. An ultramarathoner who set the speed record for completing paid a $500 fine last month over his celebration atop Katahdin, in which he popped a bottle of champagne while surrounded by a group of more than a dozen supporters.

Park director Jensen Bissell then warned that if concerns about the effects long-distance hikers have on the park are not addressed the AT might have to find a different northern ending point. As a result, a task force of Maine and national groups has talked monthly to address the concerns.

Members of Baxter's governing board asked Friday for specific steps before next spring's hiking season to protect the wilderness of the area that it says has a "profound significance" to Maine residents, the Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/1hhCDhC) reported.

"We have a challenge," said Ron Tipton, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which oversees the trail. "The Appalachian Trail is open to the public and in many ways I find it a positive that more people want to hike the trail. But I also must be quick to say that we have to manage, we have to control and in some ways I think we are going to need to restrict that use."

An estimated 3 million people hike part of AT trail annually with only a small percentage who attempt to hike the entire route from Georgia to Maine. Last year a record 2,017 AT thru-hikers came to Baxter, up from 970 in 1998. The numbers are expected to climb further after "A Walk in the Woods" — a movie based on the 1998 Bill Bryson book about the Appalachian Trail— hit theaters last month.

Tipton said in response the Conservancy put in place a voluntary thru-hiker registration this year and is boosting its outreach to hikers about respecting park and other rules.

"We have to do more and we are doing that now, helping them understand what is to be expected especially in special places like Baxter State Park," he said. "I think we can change attitudes and change behavior."

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Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com