MATC, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, announced that it will decommission the Kennebec Ferry Service, a canoe ferry across a dangerous and remote section of the Kennebec River, and replace it with a zipline for Appalachian Trail Hikers. Citing a sharp increase in the number of hikers requiring ferry service, long lines, and crowding along the banks, it was determined that crossing the 70 yard wide river by zipline will be faster, safer, and have a lower environmental impact on the fragile shoreline bordering the current crossing.
The Kennebec River is the most dangerous river crossings along the entire 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail. Approximately 70 yards wide with a swift, powerful current, the depth and current of the river surge quickly and unpredictably due to releases of water by upstream hydro facilities.
Hikers are required to cross the Kennebec by canoe for safety reasons because fording or trying to swim the river is too dangerous. Yet, despite online postings, warnings in every guidebook, and posted notices along the trail, a few dozen hikers attempt the ford or swim across the river each year because they don’t want to wait their turn for the ferry or arrive after its daily hours of operation.
“In 2015, we safely ferried 2181 hikers across the Kennebec by canoe. But with the increase in Appalachian Trail hikers expected in 2016, we’ve reached a tipping point where we cannot keep up with demand for ferry trips,” said MATC spokesperson David Matigan. “After running a feasibility study and environmental impact assessment, we determined that running three ziplines across the Kennebec would make it possible for us to keep up with hiker demand and population growth for the next 10 years. Crossing by zipline will be much faster, safer, and less expensive in the long run, and if we ever exceed our capacity, we can simply add another line across the river.”
Zipline tours have become a popular form of recreational in the State of Maine and have an excellent safety record with multiple zipline centers at Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Kittery, and Carrabasset Valley. Every rider is connected to the line using a full body harness via two attachment points and the use of a helmet is required. Once attached to the zipline, a gravity braking system, complemented by an arrester system, is used make the entire experience hands and stress free. However, a canoe ferry will still be available if there is a health or safety reason why a hiker cannot cross by zipline, they’re an unaccompanied minor, or they’re hiking with a dog.
Preliminary feedback by Appalachian Trail hikers who participated in the zipline feasibility study last autumn was enthusiastic. “Crossing the Kennebec by zipline was a rush,” said a thru-hiker known as Pit-Zip. “I think it’s a great solution to the congestion problem and that thru-hikers will really like it.”
Construction of the new Kennebec zipline crossing is underway and will be ready to receive Appalachian Trail hikers in the spring of 2016.