Washington Monument State Park, Maryland, April 1, 2020, — It’s that time of the year when mid-Atlantic ridgerunners begin their seasons, but how times have changed. This year we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. That changes everything we do.
The new reality is grim. Safe social distance is the only way we can reduce the rate of infection so that our hospitals are not overrun with patients requiring critical care.
The popular trails are overcrowded to the degree that hikers are at risk; especially so at the signature locations. Most of them are relatively small sites and visitors are incapable of maintaining appropriate social distance from one another.
The club, after much deliberation, honored the Maryland Park Service’s request to hire one ridgerunner for the April – October season. Normally we have two in Maryland, a second one for a shorter season from Memorial Day – Labor Day. This year the Conservancy withdrew its share of funding, so the club and the state of Maryland could only afford to pay one.
Collectively we are concerned that if we withdraw from the trail we will not know what’s going on. Even if hikers are banned, people will still be out there.
Our first principle is to keep the ridgerunner safe. Among other factors considered, we learned that, with the enormous noro virus outbreaks over the previous several years, not one ridgerunner has ever been infected.
Since the virility and vectors of transmission are similar, we reasoned the ridgerunners could keep themselves safe by observing the proper protocols. The ridgerunner also lives alone. No one is to enter his apartment until the state gives the all clear. He has a N-95 mask and gloves. Moreover, he will not sleep in the field until the governor lifts his ban.
Even the uniform has changed. No AT ridgerunner patches or hats. Only PATC livery.
To sum it up, normally we hire six ridgerunners. This year we plan three. One in Maryland, one in Northern Virginia and one in Shenandoah, if and when the park brings on its seasonal employees. Already the season’s start has shifted from April 8 to May 10 at the earliest. Should the park close, it might not reopen in time to have a season.
The good news is that there are fewer hikers on the trails. On March 23 Tina and I hiked this section and the lot was full. On April one, it was empty. On our first hike to Annapolis Rock we counted less than half the number on March 23.
Wes discovered the true synonym for ridgeruner is janitor. The day started as expected. Plenty of trash to collect along the way. This is near Pine Knob shelter. The tin can spells rookie. If you pack it in, please pack it out!
Naturally there were illegal fire rings to break up and what’s a ridgerunner without a frying pan found on the trail?
Leave No Trace principles say take only pictures and leave only footprints. Rock stacks are not on any list of allowable behavior that I know if. Sometimes it’s fun to see how far you can throw them.
We have ridgerunners to help protect the environment and property. Not sure the sentiment here was to resist park service rules or the current federal administration. Either way, graffiti is unwelcome. A little Elephant Snot will make short work of this.
After picking up four gallons of trash in and around Annapolis Rock, we drove to Gathland State Park to point out the back trail to the Crampton Gap shelter; then on to Weverton Cliff to end the day.
One ridgerunner on duty.