Trail workers prepare for congestion


The Appalachian Online

Sammy Hanf

A Walk In the Woods, a new film based on the 1998 book written by Bill Bryson, is expected to cause an influx of travelers on the Appalachian Trail.

According to Morgan Sommerville, southern regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the book about Bill Bryson’s trek on the trail caused an estimated 60 percent increase in through hiker traffic when it was first released. Workers and volunteers are expecting to see similar figures following the release of the film.

According to Sommerville, the trail has already been seeing about a 10 percent increase in use between 2008 and 2015.

“The interesting thing about resources that we have in this country, that we all use, is that we want people to be able to use them but at the same time we don’t want people to overuse them,” James Lautzenheiser, a recent graduate of ASU who now does trail work said.

According to Lautzenheiser, overcrowding can become a real issue, with facilities like shelters and bathrooms already being pushed near capacity.

Sommerville said the ATC has introduced an online registration tool to let people know where and when people are starting their hikes so that there is plenty of space for all hikers to camp.

“That’s the first order of business is to try to encourage people to spread out through space and time,” Sommerville said.

Other problems caused by neglect or misuse can be exacerbated with more traffic, such as littering or graffiti.

“Carrying trash is part of the job but not the part of the job that we like to do,” Lenny Bernstein, the 2014-­2015 president of the Carolina Mountain Club said.

According to Morgan, almost all of the the work on the trail is done by volunteers, which the ATC and the 31 trail clubs that oversee different sections of the trail hope to see more of to balance out the expected traffic increase.

To Lautzenheiser, the important part of trail work is to foster a sense of stewardship and for people to value the existence of the Appalachian Trail even if they don’t get to use it themselves.

“For me, the rewarding aspect now is not so much giving back to the land but getting other people to buy into that aspect, to get them to buy into that aspect of service and valuing a resource that they may never even see,” Lautzenheiser said.

Story by Sammy Hanf, Intern News Reporter