Everywhere, March 23, 2020 — On a cool spring morning, on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, we were on a 12-mile hike that would put this state’s 42 miles in the books. It would mean one state down and 13 to go for Bulldog on the AT.
In some ways nothing has changed. Hikers still have to lift their feet one step at a time. In other ways everything has changed. In addition to an over abundance of pollen, the invisible threat of the COVID-19 virus ominously hangs in the air.
As governments closed restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other gathering places, the media observed that at least the hiking trails were open.
It didn’t take long for people to figure that out. They have been swarming the trails, especially the beauty spots such as trails with popular waterfalls and overlooks. The overcrowding defeats nature’s benefits.
Bulldog needed the most popular section in Maryland to fill in her dance card. This is the footbridge across I-70 near Boonsboro, MD.
In the course of the first eight miles, from Washington Monument State Park to the Pogo campground, we counted 50 hikers, 17 of which were backpackers. From talking with them, noting more trash than usual and the type of trash, and from observing the size of backpacks and bear spray, we deduced the crowd was mostly novice.
The miles after eight are less popular and we saw no one.
Bulldog’s step count.
Stay tuned for the next state. It’ll probably be West Virginia’s less than five miles. After that, they’re pretty much out of day-hiking practicality. Virginia’s 500+ miles are a prime example. Remember this sucker is 2,200 miles long.
We did not wear masks while hiking. We could easily stay six feet apart and well away from other hikers. We did mask up to shuttle our cars to the start and end points. I am in a vulnerable group relative to gray hair and having allergy-related asthma.
Our hike was only the kickoff event for a relentless week. As the CDC and state governors refined their guidance, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy needed to make decisions relative to hiker safety, the ridgerunner season, trail conditions, meetings and a lot more.
As of this writing, noon Monday, March 23, the following closures and restrictions have been announced: Rocky Mountain National Park is completely closed. Shelters/campgrounds closed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Numerous hostels and trail centers have also closed. Trail crew work trips are canceled including my beloved Hoodlums.
This just in: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will officially ask Americans to stay off the AT until further notice! The overcrowding is unsafe. Darwin Award candidates everywhere.
I’ve asked the park if I should do this or not. Thursday I’m driving up to Shenandoah to prepare my AT section for spring, raking leaves out of the waterbars (drains), paint some blazes, and a couple of other small projects. Will count cars in the parking lots on the way out.
Stay tuned and stay safe everyone.