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Reader Poll: Crowding on the Appalachian Trail and the PCT

Take to the Trail
Take to the Trail

The number of thru-hikers hiking the Appalachian Trail and The Pacific Crest Trail has grown so large that crowding is really starting to become an issue. Are we loving these trails to death and destroying the “primitive experience” they were created to protect? Litter, shelter vandalism, human waste disposal, campsites stripped of all burnable wood, widespread campsite proliferation, interpersonal conflicts, negative wildlife interactions: life on the trail just isn’t the same as it used to be. How can we protect our National Scenic Trails so that overuse doesn’t destroy their essence?

Leave a comment below that with your opinion on how to address the following issue:

Examples

We should make all thru-hikers buy a permit in order to hike a National Scenic Trail. This would cut down on the numbers by eliminating the people who are vagrants and live on the trail while capping the number of people who can hike it each year. The use fees could be put into maintaining the trail and the shelters and keeping them pristine.

The problem isn’t with the thru-hikers: the population of other hikers and campers who use the trail is much greater and they are the reason the trails are so over-crowded and dirty.

All thru-hikers should be required to spend 2 days on trail and shelter maintenance crews to hike the AT and PCT.

Education is the answer. The ATC should hire more trail runners to educate hikers along the trail regardless of whether their thru-hikers or not. That program did a lot of good when I saw it in action in Connecticut and Maine.

I realize that this is a heated issue, so please be respectful of other commenters opinions, even if you strongly disagree with them .

155 comments

  1. The permit system should be better controlled and folks should have to pay for the permit. Not a lot of money but something to place value on the process. That money could go to volunteers who can do more educating of hikers at trailheads. At some point it might become necessary for hikers to take a LNT class prior to getting their permits.

  2. LNT is important yes, but it has it’s own limits and there certainly exists a point that a trail would even become over-used by perfectly conscientious hikers. Given this, it is entirely plausible for someone to make a strong case for stricter thru-hiker permits. However, I suspect that such efforts would be better directed at more casual users of the trails who don’t follow LNT principles as strictly.

  3. LNT is fundamental to the existence of our parks. The best fix, though not the quickest, is through education. I think the most extreme (expensive, impractical and impossible to enforce) would be to employ something similar to proposals (are they in effect yet?) for Mt. Everest where each hiker is weighed in and out and basically people go through your pack and if you don’t come back with what you started with you get a huge fine. I do think the punishments for littering and other poor behavior should be painful. It’s inherently hard to enforce, so the only way to get people to follow it is to make the punishment significantly higher to outweigh the low risk of getting caught. I like the idea of permits, but at the same time, that is unfair to those that do not get lottery permits (or cannot afford them). Ideally, we will expand the trail networks to accommodate the increase in hikers. Make some hikes longer and harder, I’ll gladly go on them (and even help mark) to avoid the hordes. It would be great if we created/expanded the parks too. If we don’t do it now it will only get harder, and then impossible.

    I think the answer you’re looking for is somewhere in between, something practical and effective. I wonder if trail trash cleanup could be monetized somehow (have it be some greater than normal multiple for collecting a soda can from the PCT than the alleyway). I understand a large part of going out into the wilderness is to leave our phones behind, but perhaps if there was a better system for notifying local rangers of campsites/people to check out could be improved in speed and logistics. It sounds lame, but when the problem gets big enough (when, not if), dumpsters/trash cans will have to be installed.

    I hope that a silver lining of so many more people being on the trails is that we will have that many more constituents across America that will help to ensure that our government does it’s best to help us continue to maintain and protect one of our greatest of national treasures.

  4. There could be a way to volunteer during your time on the trail as a psuedo police/ranger who has the power to report others on the trail who are breaking the rules and destroying the beauty of the wilderness. These reports could be made by an app that is designed to help identify others on the trail. Or if could just be a number to call or text with an individual’s permit number who is breaking the rules. These offenders would have to pay fines that would match their offenses or do community sevice on the trail. All in all I think positive peer pressure is how we’re going to win this battle.

  5. Another though on the education idea is that there should be signs that try to help new hikers understand why it is so important to keep the trails clean and promote a leave it better than you found it attitude. Sometimes signa like this are found at trailheads and sometimes not. If more of these signs were at trailheads, parking sites, shelters, etc. and if they stressed a positive peer pressure attitude that had clear punishments and a call to all hikers to stop people they see from commiting these acts, then perhaps a difference could be made.

  6. I sit on the open space committee in my town and I see use as a good thing. Take the demand and translate it into more trails, more National Scenic Trails and more information about those trails. If the AT or PCT are too crowded then have an alternative to hike. If you blaze more trails they will come.

  7. Yes, over use is fast becoming a major problem. Do we need to then limit use?? ‘Need a license to hike a section? That way, use can be monitored and controlled? Not a popular idea, but a necessary one??? How else to address overuse and associated damages?

  8. Thru-hikers should be required to have some basic pieces of equiptment: map, compass before being allowed onto the trail. In addition I like the idea that thru-hikers should agree to some type of volunteer activity. I don’t know how I feel about fees. I’m a real believer that work connects people to things in a way that money cannot. By having to physically invest oneself in the maintenance of these long distance trails hikers will be more likely to promote responsible use.

  9. Education will not relieve the numbers of hikers on the trail. Permits/lotteries will cause quite a stir, especially with hikers who travel long distances to do the trail with a friend or two.
    Not a real solution, but helpfull would be a stronger ranger presence on the trail. As a model I would use the High Peaks area of NY. Heavy fines for littering. Lean-to “adoption” to keep lean to’s clean of accumulated “spare” items and trash. A ban on fires except between November and May. Construction and scheduled movement of Outhouses. Required bear canister use between May and November. LNT training/certification required for ALL hikers (4 hour hikers course) and required to be carried anywhere on the trail. Immediate family groups (children less than 16) allowed but group size limited to 4 otherwise. Designated campsites. Work crews in each 500 mi section to remove blowdowns, reroute bad sections (recovery) where possible, fill in potholes, etc. Carry it in, Carry it out… I am sure this is only the beginning. Vagrants cannot be stopped, only regulated. A three day “stay” period in any one spot unless injured. And an open permit system to register who is on the trail. Perhaps a lottery after several years if this does not clean up the trail. Regulation and enforcement of our trails I am against. But, if the trail is being ruined and destroyed (I refuse to hike it,) then we need to do something.

  10. Great topic, definitely no easy answer. I’d hate to discourage trail use as it’s getting people moving, away from addictive technology and an ignored trail is tough to use. I do like the idea of a thru-hiking permit that requires a lesson on LNT and a signed commitment to treat the trail well. Payment could be money or trail-service hours. Also, should more be done to advertise the less used trails to help divert some of the traffic?

  11. Definitely promote LNT more, and figure out how to reach the groups that obviously aren’t getting that message!

  12. Completion rates for the AT and PCT vary between 15 and 30% of one to two thousand people, so by the last third of the trail there are only a few hundred through hikers. State parks see those numbers of visitors in a few summer weekends. We need to promote LNT to ALL trail users and stop singling out through hikers simply because they are the most visible (and smellable). Out west, the impact from one hunting party packed into wilderness areas by ten horses is often far worse than the entire “herd” of through hikers.

  13. I’d hate to restrict the number of hikers, but you can curb it by requiring permits for backcountry hiking. Basic economic rules would suggest that this would reduce the number of hikers, but it would also provide some funds for trail maintenance. It could also put more eyes on the trail to safeguard against litter and destructive behavior, but it’s just impossible to watch them all.

    I would be against any sort of lottery or training requirement. That only makes sense in cases like Half Dome where safety is a genuine problem with overcrowding.

  14. Not sure I have the wordsmith skills to have this come of as respectful and non-preachy but please understand that is the spirit in which these comments are offered.

    Here was Walt Kelly’s summary on Earth Day 1971: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pogo_-_Earth_Day_1971_poster.jpg

    We can encourage our fellow hikers to be part of the “informal” maintenance effort … and lead from the front on this.

    Make it more formal and adopt a trail section. I cannot overstate the satisfaction you’ll have walking “your trail” knowing it is better because of your effort.

    Encourage dispersed usage. There’s a very popular state park 45 minutes drive from the center of our “town” of 3 million people. Popular meaning high usage, for good reason … it is a great place to hike. I’ve found several less used alternatives and when asked if I want to go to the state park I’ll ask if they’d like to learn about other options.

    Help out with the type of education efforts mentioned in other replies here.

  15. Unfortunately this issue is a reflection of what is happening all over the planet. Yes, fees may help, limited use may help, education may help but the real problem is too many people using too few resources. Call me a pessimist, but I only see these issues getting worse.

  16. None of you guys have hiked the Appalachian Trail in the past 5 years obviously. LNT is DEAD and paying lip service to it is past the point of hopelessness. The AT shelters in the southern states resemble tail gaiting parties at football games more than any wilderness you imagine still exists. Ramen has been replaced by beer and pot. People camp wherever they want without regard to campsite impacts and shit in the middle of the trail. The only way to turn back the clock is to shut the AT down for a year to wake people up to the problem.

  17. Encourage club membership and publicize crew work.

  18. Requiring permits would help. To obtain a permit, a hiker should have to sign a statement agreeing to basic LNT principles and trail etiquette. Permit fees could be put toward additional trail maintenance and educational outreach for all hikers, not just through hikers.

  19. If more ridge runners were available to help with campsite management and general trail behavior, the AT could continue to be a destination for thru and short term hikers.

  20. Not a fan of permits or quotas – in my experience they are often ineffective. If the demand is too high then I agree that’s a signal that we need to increase funding for the existing National Scenic Trails and create more alternative trails for people to use.

  21. Allow the BMT to be part of an AT thru hike. That would take some pressure off of the AT.

  22. I have to agree with LNT is DEAD. Shut down the trails for a year or two and make the resource scarce if you want people to appreciate it more. I won’t go near the AT south of Pennsylvania because it’s so disgusting. It’s not just the thru-hikers, but the trail angels who are making the place a mess. The PCT is headed down the same hole as well.

  23. I have mostly hiked around in the north west, so my opinions are based on that. I am a big fan of permitting trails in national parks to limit the number of people on the trail at one time. This will work to keep weekend hikers spread evenly through the smaller trails.

    For longer trails individual permits seem like too big of a logistical issue. I personally think an internet honor permit system would be a good way to collect money for trail expansion and maintenance. An option for contributing man hours to trail upkeep or building trails could be option in this system instead money. People could ignore the honor system, but us hikers are a trustworthy bunch, I think the program would make a big dent.

    More trails seems like a good way to spread people out, and encourage more petite to get out there.

  24. Require a permit for all overnight trail users in over-used/abused sections. The fee should be small, but numbers limited. Thru hikers should need just one permit for the length of the trail.

  25. It is a sad situation for sure. I do not know if it is thru-hiking that is the problem, however. It seems to me that more casual usage by people less informed that thru-hikers seem to be. This is from my observation of casual hikers versus thru-hikers.

    The folks freezing to death in May on the LT and in the Smokies seems uneducated as well as unprepared. It is my guess there are a lot of folks that think it’s all “just a walk in the park.”

    Clearly education needs to be done – perhaps a “hiker safety course” in conjunction with hiking permits like they have with hunting permits.

    The funds could be used to maintain trails / continue education. I, for one, would willingly pay for an annual hiking permit for the LT and take a 4 hour course once a year to refresh LNT and hiking safety.

    • Nope. The problem is thru-hikers. If you live in Vermont, you just see the survivors who make it up north. It’s a frat party down south before most of them give up and go home, with all the abuse and excess that you’d think that entails.

  26. The states should create deputy trail/camp officers – a volunteer position for retirees or people interested in a career in land/park/trail management with the authority to give out tickets for misuse of the woods and trails.

  27. Well for the southern section of the PCT closing our Borders would be a major help especially the sections between Potrero, and north of kitchen creek. But I also happen to know and heard from a Ranger a number of years ago while camped at Kitchen Creek, the Forest Service already has created a plan for both trails some years ago and it has been sitting on a shelf collecting dust until they could get the chance or find an opputurnity to jump us with it. It includes Permits, Fees, Sign in’s Sign out, paying for NF Patrols etc. etc. So I will not waste my time with putting forward suggestions and ideas that have already been decided against and we are being given the illusion that we are having a say in it…as Gooberment grabs control….

  28. Overnight use fees/permit fees as much as possible/practical and use funds for manpower to enforce rules and generate lots of signage that educates and, frankly, threatens steep fines.

  29. I really appreciate the ability to use a backcountry trail without permits and limits. The majority of AT thru hikers will be respecting the trail and the situation. Some research would likely reveal that the remote campsites are just fine…the easily accessible campsites are the ones with a problem. The Superior Hiking Trail in MN does not permit overnight parking at many trailheads which limits the amounts of yahoos that can carry a giant axe into a site just to take a few recreational whacks at random trees (my personal peeve). It’s really effective as there are some amazing campsites within a mile of the road with very little abuse.

    Permit systems need to be enforced to work and that takes money. It could come to that, but there are many other options available that should be investigated. Forums like this really help the conversation.

  30. I don’t mind the over usage of the trails–I would never try to stop a person from getting out and enjoying the beauty of nature. But these people need to be educated on the proper conduct for trail living. I took a Leave no Trace Ethics seminar that was full of so much useful information. So maybe requiring a class prior to be able to obtain a permit to have access to the trails? I don’t know I that’s the answer either. But it really boils down to education! I would also like to see more scenic trails built….maybe this would disburse all of the people that are crowding to the major ones here in the US.

  31. It’s hard to have a perfect answer, but educating people about Leave No Trace policies is the best I can come up with. I am VERY against permits and fees, as I would never be able to afford them right now and can only hike/camp places that are free. That is the point of these beautiful places – to keep them open for enjoyment to as many people as possible. This obviously can (and already has) turn into something undesirable as large crowds make a mess, but restricting use only to people who can afford it (even a cheap permit can be impossible for some people) honestly seems flat-out immoral to me. Forcing people to pay to experience nature is wrong. Teach them proper etiquette and speak out when you see noncompliance.

  32. I believe the way to limit the overcrowding of these National Scenic Trails is to let them become more wild. That would include less trail maintenance and blazing. It would create a greater sense of adventure and would also likely keep out more of the casual people that just wanted to party.

  33. I do not feel like it would be proper to restrict use or delegate who can hike these trails ! This is free America and we should keep it that way! More trail runners and educators would be a plus though!

  34. I think education is a good answer, but not the only answer.

    I think workdays are a good answer, but not the only answer.

    I think permits are definitely a good answer, but not the only answer. I do think limiting the number of hikers would be one of the most effective things that could be done for the short term. Even taking it a step further, I would love to have hiking be a licensed activity such as driving. That will never happen though.

    Overall, I think the most important answer to preserving these trails (and other trails, wilderness areas, national forests, state parks, other potential scenic areas not yet denoted as such, etc) is to protect them from development, logging, etc. Hundreds of thousands of hikers over the course of many years will NEVER do as much damage as one bulldozer can do in one day.

  35. More side trails with shelters and loop backs would spread some of the traffic out. This would reduce traffic from 1 – 2 night long trips.

  36. Education of LNT could be improved by requiring a simple online course before allowing you to pay a fee and obtain a permit to hike on the AT or PCT. Maybe you could waive the fee if you volunteered to clean up a section of the trail. Enforcing this system would be pretty hard though.

  37. It is the tragedy of the commons. There are too many people trying to do a good thing. It does not seem like there is any solution. Building more trails does not even solve the problem because it will remove the wilderness experience from more places. My personal solution is to hike trails that nobody knows about.

    • It is a tragedy of the commons. There’s certainly no funding for any of these solutions requiring money, let alone building new trails through the most densely populated parts of the United States.

      I do like the suggestion to make them wilder though. Removing the blazes, shelters, removing road crossings, and banning trail angels, would certainly cut down on people who aren’t there for a life-changing wilderness experience, while lowering costs, and preserving the basic character of the trails.

  38. One of the most important AND complex issues that our trail faces for sure! I would be against the “permits” route, my daughter and I “tag team” the AT sections, meaning that we share some gear and hike at different times of the year. Sometimes leading to spontaneous long weekends and short notice trips. I HATE the idea of more government – but in order to make any improvements and to curb the abuse, why not have a larger presence of conservation authorities?Erect LARGE signs and impose even LARGER fines to those who choose to abuse it? It’s sad, you can “educate” as much as you like – but people don’t seem to pay much attention to things until you hit them in the checkbook.

  39. Lots of good ideas here. I don’t think permits and fees are the answer (how would they possibly enforce such a rule?) and LNT classes are useful only to the folks that take them (don’t see how they could make them mandatory). I think maybe ridge runners and the like are probably a decent solution, but that requires paying a lot of people to be out in the wilderness for long periods of time.

  40. If one defines the problem as simply overcrowding, there is a simple, cynical answer: just wait 40 years. Although there are conflicting data regarding rates of outdoor activity participation (http://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/ResearchParticipation2013.pdf), there is no question which direction the U.S. population is headed: birth rates are on a long-term downward trajectory (http://money.cnn.com/2013/09/06/news/economy/birth-rate-low/). So, in 40 years, the Boomers are gone, Gen X and Millenials will be “gettin’ low,” and trail traffic should be back to the perceived optimum.

    However, if one would address the issue as a problem of bad human behavior, the solutions are more complex. The perceived problems are downstream symptoms of deficient upstream cultural values and assumptions. More policing, more permitting, more regulation, more education, in general, more government, are not likely to solve problems of bad acting. In short: we love the wrong things. History is full of tried-and-failed regulatory solutions to getting people to love, and do, what is good. I only know of one that is successful, but the medicine is probably worse than the disease. Matthew 19:25-26.

  41. Permits, permits, permits. Most national parks out west require one to get a backcountry permit before they go out and camp, and I don’t see why the AT should be exempted. Getting them is definitely annoying, and it is great to just go out and hike to a campsite without one, but in my experience the places that require permits are far more clean and retain their sense of wilderness than those that don’t require them. I think that wilderness should be available to everyone, rich and poor, but a nominal fee to help bring the AT to a more wilderness state would be very advantageous in my opinion. Even if you follow LNT principles, you are still “using” a trail and making an impact whether you think you are or not–a trail whose shelters, signs, and so on are, luckily, mostly maintained by volunteers. Shutting down the trail for a year or two seems like a good idea at first, but may backfire. Think of all of the people itching to get back on the trail during that year or two, and once the trail re-opens, you would have a huge spike in usage.

    Maybe an option would be to shut it down for a year, and during that year, hammer out a permit system. Another option would be to have on-site caretakers at the shelters, kind of like they do in white mountain national forest, where they collect a marginal fee if you’ll be staying there. There are so many shelters on the path that it would be hard to do, but maybe you could have one caretaker for every two shelters. If one has a permit to thru-hike, maybe they are exempt from that fee, kind of like a “season pass” type thing.

  42. Permits for sure and setting up many work days sent to the emails of the hikers that got permits plus signs at every shelter with dos and don’ts.

  43. while i see the arguments, I am definitely against fees. I think implementing a program that targets trail users and aims to inform them about leave no trace policies -and impose larger fines, and make it very clear that these fines exist and then do a better job at enforcing them. one simple way to do this would be to include signs on these policies and fines at all trail heads and parking locations.

  44. Though I have not hiked these two, I see some of the trails in our part of the country that require permits. Hard to get at times, but limits the numbers to a manageable level

  45. As has been mentioned, it is the tragedy of the commons.

    Pricing the experience monetarily would help put a value to entry, cutting down on numbers. Unfortunately, that will inevitably price out a group of people, which I don’t think is fair. It may be unavoidable.

    As for litter and damage, the fines for littering and the like should be steep. This should be combined with education at all trail heads. Enforcement would be patchy, but often just the knowledge that there is a possibility of a very high fine works as a deterrent.

  46. Education, Education, Education

  47. I think it is an education problem. Some training in LNT when you get your permit would be great. It could be online like the fire permit is. Also fines for people that just don’t want to follow the rules.

  48. Require permits which is an opportunity to educate. Eventually charge for the permits, if needed, and use that money to clean the trails.

  49. Man…great thread. BTW…We haven’t seen the worst of this yet, I can only imagine what a zoo the AT will be like after the “A Walk in the Woods” movie is released.

  50. I cannot see making people get a permit or enter a lottery to be able to hike a trail helping make our trails better trails. We need not legislate the public to just go out and enjoy nature. Education can help, either by showing kids (from grade school on) how to care for our trails and parks or by getting our children involved in the boy and girl scouts. Another great way to enhance stewardship is to be a member of the local Trail club who take care of them. With the advent of social media like facebook and twitter we can let people know what the damaging effects crowds have to our environment. It may not cure the crowds, but it may make people aware and I think it is the best we can do.

  51. Simply copy what Peru does with the Inca Trail and mandate the number of Trekkers on the trail per day and charge them a fee to enter. All fees go to trail cleanup and maintenance; works perfectly fine and is self-sustaining.

  52. Educate, educate, educate. I was amazed at how much trash was left behind by thru hikers during a recent 10 day hike along the AT. Perhaps requiring permits with no fees or minimal fees attached but with some sort of required LNT instruction. Or encouraging thru hikers to give back thru voluntary trail/shelter maintenance.

  53. I like the ideas of Stanton…that is, working to build in alternative routes and shelters for those who are just out for a night or two. A separate permit system could then be implemented and used to ensure that the only people who are allowed to use and (hopefully) responsibly enjoy the AT shelters are thru and section hikers along the trail.

  54. We’re 7 billion people forecasted to be 9 billion by 2050. It’s unfortunate but it’s the world we’re forcing ourselves into. Growing up hiking around Vermont, it’s changed drastically in recent years. Now if you don’t get to a trailhead by 0800 in the morning you’re walking an extra mile or two and running into traffic jams on the trail. It’s always a few people that ruin it for the rest of us who respect the LNT principle, but as our number grows so does the”few” people exponentially. It’s too bad….. Sometimes I think I was born 50 yrs too late.

  55. Education is the key. A permitting process would help but not if it was cost prohibitive to hikers.

  56. It’s not thru hikers causing the problems, most “true” hikers know and respect the fragility of the settings we love. It’s the casual hikers and the kids looking for a place to party that are causing any such ruination. Educating the general public is the first step. Otherwise I’m not sure how to police these areas.

  57. I think the answer may lie in both education and further permit restrictions/requirements. In Geocaching we have a saying (cache in, trash out), the Leave No Trace equivalent. This education could be made part of the permit requirements. If permits are purchased online, perhaps a mandatory video (I don’t know, 15-30 minutes) must be viewed before completing the purchase. The video could show issues (negatively) affecting the trails and what can be done to reduce the impact. The same sort of thing happens at National Parks before a backcountry permit can be issued. I think most just shrug the videos off as being cheesy or unimportant, but when trails begin to close, it may prick up people’s ears. Eliminating some behavior completely is impossible, but reducing it can definitely be achieved.

  58. Permitting would be hard to both implement and enforce, and I’d also hate to see access limited. Greater public enjoyment of natural areas increases public support for their protection. The money it would take to set up and enforce a permitting system would be better spent on outreach and education (on LNT, etc.)–through programming, social media and larger numbers of rangers out and about to interact with the public. That said, enforcement of current regulations would work in tandem with this, with fines for those caught littering, etc.

  59. With lots of people come lots of problems with waste and such. Break up the trail into permit sections. Charge a small fee to use each section and in turn use the fee to improve the trail and help with the upkeep of the trail as well. Use money to build shelters, improve trash collection, and improve sanitation (toilet and bathing). It doesn’t have to be a government agency to implement it could be trail associations that provide the services.

  60. Philmont Scout Ranch would not be nearly as nice if they allowed an unlimited number of scouts per year. A lottery system is set up to make it as fair as possible. The issue with a trail like AT is the numerous entry points. How could you actively police them?

    LNT plays a huge role and in my opinion is fundamental to any solution. the thru-hikers are small enough in numbers not to play the large role and heck, they will have already been practicing LNT and know what they are doing.
    Education, mandatory training in LNT before being let on the trail, being certified to hike / camp responsibly? It strikes me as too much interference, but the destruction of the trail and surrounding areas may make it the correct option.

  61. Let’s get real people education is a must but in reality the people who do not follow the rules and or laws are the ones ruining it for everyone else. Until we get serious about enforcing rules and laws nothing will change if people knew that for breaking the law you would get a 1 year minimum time in jail you would see things change, face it people once you are looking at jail time your whole mindset changes, heck who wants to go to jail for a year.

  62. If LNT worked we wouldn’t have this problem. No one gives a damn about Leave No Trace. They read the signs and ignore them. LNT is about as potent as “Keep America Beautiful” or “Do Not Litter”.

  63. We are a crowed society, lots of folks want to enjoy the trails, I say bring them on! Most will hike sections close to home and stop. More remote sections will be used MUCH less.

    In my opinion the key is as follows
    1) set a good example
    2) talk to the hikers that are not practicing leave no trace – they may just need (and appreciate) some education
    3) go ahead and be the better person, pick up, clean up, repair. It is surprisingly contagious.
    4) Remember, you are not special, others deserve to be on the trail as well.

  64. There are so many issues involved in this problem. On the issue of depleted firewood, simple: just outlaw fires. They just make a mess.
    If the ATC hired more Ridge Runners, they could better monitor trash. I always carry a gallon Ziploc solely for trash, and pick up lots! Mandate a trash bag for every hiker. I also agree that much of the problem of overcrowding and misuse of the resource comes from dayhikers and casual users.. Ridge Runners could do a better job (in larger numbers of course) of educating casual users.
    I like the idea of building (and better maintaining) privys. I think if geologically feasible, every single shelter should have a sustainable privy.
    LNT training should be required… I have no idea how that could be regulated, but just making sure hikers stepped on the most durable surface on the treadway would make a huge difference.
    I think it might be possible to enlist residents of towns close to the Trails to “adopt” shelters or sections of Trail, perhaps even open sponsorship of shelters to businesses, in exchange for a small sponsorship sign at the shelter? Or solicit sponsorship from large businesses or non-profits to maintain sections of the Trails. With sponsorship dollars available, the ATC could maintain professional Trail maintenance teams who could respond to immediate needs

  65. I don’t think there is an easy answer. Obviously if everyone using and camping on the national scenic trails was educated in LNT and followed it that would solve them problem but realistically that is never going to happen. I don’t think thru hikers are the problem. For every thru hiker I have seen on the AT in the mid atlantic region where I live I have seen 20 boy scouts camping for example. Trying to have some sort of permit system or other scheme on a 2200 mile trail in any enforceable way seems like it would be impractical. Unless you are going to have a caretaker living at every high use shelter there is not a lot to be done. Of course this is why I just usually avoid the AT for backpacking unless it is winter. Where I live in Maryland there are literally thousands of miles of other backpacking trails within a half day drive or less that are very lightly used. If you want to go backpacking around here and get some real solitude just go to a different trail.

  66. 1. Permits which work across jurisdictions. I hate to say it but this means rationing/quotas. Pretty obvious when looking at JMT data and the way folks can and do game the system to work around the Yosemite permit system. Need to recognize that the land can support only so much traffic.
    2. Enforcement of permits and rules. This means support ($$$) for Rangers et al. Permit fees to support rangers in a jurisdiction, perhaps?
    3. Education – Folks need to recognize the impact of their mere presence. LNT is a good start. Volunteers can support. Accomplished as part of the permit system, perhaps.

    Need to recognize the difference in impacts from thru hikers vs. section hikers vs. weekenders. For example, given my longstanding observations of hiker ethos, I find it inconceivable that thru hikers are responsible for a significant portion of deliberate vandalism. My anecdotal observation of behaviors would place that blame more at the feet of weekend yahoos than the thru hikers. That said, an understanding of the numbers and impacts of thru hikers vs. extended section hikers vs. short term (incl weekend) hikers is needed. Also need to understand the root issues. For example, vandalism would drive different solutions than would ‘normal wear and tear’ of facilities and trails which would be different than impacts of sheer numbers on a wilderness setting.

    Finally, remember, that one bad apple spoils the bunch. 1/10 of 1% of any class of wilderness user can create a lot of havoc and cast a long shadow on a lot of conscientious users.

  67. Application process teamed with a permit. Fees collected from permit sales can be then used to help fund a campaign to teach proper wildlife ethics as well as trail teach good trail Etiquette. Funds collected could also be used to help fund rangers to enforce rules/laws against littering, bear bagging, ect ect.

  68. Over the years I have come across dozens and dozens of trashed sites and litter everywhere. Rarely have I encountered the folk that left the mess.

    However, we could self monitor what is happening.with Social Media. Take pictures of sites, and campers if able, and post on social media sites.

  69. To protect the national scenic trails thru hikers should be required to obtain a free permit which would require an online LNT course. The permit would act as an agreement to follow LNT principles and a violation would result in the loss of the permit. I believe that casual hikers have a greater impact on the trails, and more education at the trailheads as well as more rangers and steep fines would be most helpful.

  70. I think that the problem can be addressed by issuing free permits to those who apply for them. I would include a LNT tutorial as part of the permitting process. This would raise awareness of the issue to those who may not have LNT experience.

  71. This is a great topic to talk about that I feel strongly about. I don’t think it is a good idea to limit who can or can’t have access to overused trails or to charge people a permit for use or anything like that. We want these trails to be as accessible as possible.

    My solution to clean up the trails and keep them that way is a two-pronged approach.

    Public awareness is key. By posting large signs at trail heads instructing people to abide by proper trail etiquette and publicly shaming those who don’t abide by the rules. Okay maybe not publicly shaming them, but if you see someone littering or making a mess or burning huge fires where they shouldn’t, kindly remind them of the rules and teach them what they did wrong. A lot of times it is as simple as lack of education. Other times it is just straight forward disrespect of the area from people who just don’t give a damn.

    Which brings me to the second part of the two-pronged approach. Enforcing strict rules and issuing fines to those who are offenders of the rules. Although this would be hard to enforce, simply having those fines in place would deter a lot of people from making a mess. The only place they are likely to get caught would be heavily occupied camping areas or trail heads, but it would be a start and word would spread that the area is enforced.

    So basically public knowledge and education along with enforcement of rules would help a bit. It may not solve all of our problems bu it would be a start.

  72. I don’t think we’ll be able to force people to change this behavior by simply piling bureaucratic policy into the trail admittance process by requiring a permit to hike or charging an entrance fee. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the mind of the hiker to see and be aware of how their actions, (no matter how small it seems to them), affects those around him or her. Although I may not be able to answer the problem we face today, I am doing all I can to make sure my sons and future generation of hikers learn to respect both the woods and their fellow hikers.

  73. Make more of them? Better public (i.e. government) funding? The underlying “problem” of overcrowding is that more people want to be in nature. A desire to experience wild places indicates wider enthusiasm for conservation and biodiversity. I have no problem with that. I celebrate it. And the organic result ought to be the addition of more protected lands, not forced “education” or “policing”.

  74. A permit process that includes an application would be nice. This would serve two purposes: the processing time would limit impulse trips and the requirement of a basic itinerary (as some parks already require) forces applicants into at least minor planning and preparation – which hopefully would raise awareness of proper LNT practices and improve safety.

  75. Pretty much everything has been said- I will say no fires and ridge runners HAS worked in CT. Having thru hiked myself (1998) the worst sections are typically in Georgia and NC at the start. It’s analyzing how few who start actually know what they are doing! Ridge runners and shelter/campsite adopters in this area could really make a difference.

  76. Living on the West Coast, it’s pretty common here to have to get a permit for any overnight stay – on top of the admission fee to any state park, national park or forest areas. The burden should definitely be shared between day/overnight users and thru-hikers. I hate that this turns some people away, from what are a public resource. But there is often an option to earn the pass with a certain number of volunteer hours, which seems more fair. I know there are many businesses and communities along the AT that must benefit from hiker traffic, so perhaps a more extensive adopt-a-trail program could help.

    • Well, I think these areas would be better off if people dispersed camp off trail to lessen the impact on one specific spot, but I know how terrain can make that difficult or impossible. If it gets really bad, another option could be to have the trail split off in some areas, like have two parallel pct sections. This would also make a rehike more interesting.

  77. I have read a lot of ideas here from education to fees and fines to help control overuse and destruction of our scenic trails. One thing I would like to throw out is good old accountability. Fellow hikers/campers should hold each other accountable to take care of what is left of our wilder areas. Obviously, safety first though. I don’t think people should aggressively go after people for camping too close to water ways and stripping trees for fire wood. Just a reminder that what they are doing is damaging and will likely diminish the overall experience for the next hikers/campers. Maybe ask them what they would feel if they found a place with a beautiful mountain or valley view only to discover someone previously had left a bunch trash when they had lunch and enjoyed the view. I think educating people is a good step toward maintaining our scenic trails but, reinforcement as it happens is also needed.

  78. I lovbe the idea of having a LNT course with a use permit, but I don’t think it’s really enforceable – just too many accessible trailheads. Maybe it could work at some of the rural areas like Baxter state park or with the WMNF parking pass required to park at some ome areas.

    My idea is some kind of incentive program for picking up litter along the trail. Something like turn in a bag of trash for a discount meal or laundry at one of the towns hikers resupply at.

    I’m obviously not expecting thru hikers to carry a huge bag of garbage, but maybe something like a plastic shopping bag. You could even have special “official” bags that are needed for the program that come with a use permit.

    I don’t think the long distance hikers are the problem, but they are more likely to want to help. Offer them a home cooked meal in exchange for picking up around the campsites might sound pretty good.

  79. Living on the East coast in Maine, I help maintain the AT, which is in my back yard. The majority of thru hikers do not filthy up the trails and woods. Its mostly the weekend warriors and random overniters. I feel , as a ferocious hiker, that the responsability relies on all who use the trails. Pdrmits, fees and passesshpuld be bought and reserved to a limited amount of people.

  80. Tough situation. I believe a small usage fee which is used to further leave no trace education will help.

  81. I wonder if we have the ability to use social pressure, peer pressure, to create the culture of leave no trace. Create the mystique of the real backwoods hiker that others will want to emulate. Don’t be the dude who leaves a mess.

  82. A lottery system may work, like you have to do for major rivers to run long trips.

  83. This is a tough one. I believe that education and creating a culture that embraces and disseminates LNT is the ultimate answer(as it was during the backpacking “boom” of the seventies). To this end I think ridge runners and shelter/campsite caretakers as we have in NE could help. There would probably need to be some camping fees associated with this which I know many thru hikers dislike. I would think that it would be fair to have a special Thru hiker rate as a one time fee that would include the entire trail (except the AMC huts). I can see why some people believe in permits and quotas. As onerous as the regulations are in Baxter for example I think it probably makes for a better hiking experience. It is quite the conundrum, fees, quotas, and ridge runners do not fit with the idea of a”wilderness experience”. Being realistic however at least on the AT where my experience is it is far from a wilderness experience to begin with.

  84. Much along the same lines of what others have said, I’m not at all in favor of creating processes that in turn create limitations to usage. It’s not a friendly and welcoming means of making money. However, I fully believe the parks have very right to come down hard on those violating the rules – some of which aren’t much more than things learned from childhood manners and basic trail etiquette. You want to find money, find it there, and you want to limit usage, make it limited to those doing the most damage to it. It’s hard to have reason to turn someone away at the trailhead, and we can’t presume the worst in people. However, if along the trail they start making trouble, the fines and violations will have their justifications.

  85. sounds a little crazy but how about a leave no trace course being part of the training for a fee free hiker’s license. I think the larger part of trail abuse is just plain ignorance. It’s not that difficult to leave it like you found it.

  86. charge for permits, and fees for those who dont comply, or just require all hikers to carry a bear canister, then no one will go who doesnt have 100 bucks to throw away.

  87. That statement looks like something that was written in 1970s. We survived disco and the crush of hikers taking to the woods back then and, in my estimation, we are currently not seeing the same level of reckless disregard for the well being of the backcountry. Still, one of the things that got us through that influx of new users back then was education and raised awareness. Simple reminders at trailheads of the need to use bear canisters seems to work on the AT in Georgia. Why not welcome the newcomers and suggest that they take a low-cost and low-pressure course like the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Spring Hiking program?

  88. Everyone should be require to take leave no trace class before getting permit to be on the trail.

  89. I also think education is the answer though how do this is difficult. I find most thru-hikers do not dirty up campsites. I have found shelters and campsites nearest roads the worst and ones I do not like to stay in. Perhaps more ridge runners or volunteers who can educate hikers but I feel the ones who will leave a camp clean will and some I am afraid do not care. A big problem and one that will be hard to solve.

  90. I think it is very hard to change a culture barring a major event or substantial time. Both the AT and PCT being so close to major population areas, easy access/transportation and a plethora of information on hiking the trails will remain heavily traveled. This may be good or bad but will not destroy the trail.

    It’s the “why” one is on the trail. As long as it’s the “thing to conquer” or “last party before the real world” the trail will be used as a consumable. I don’t think the damage is being done by people who hike. It is people that are on a hike. They are not likely to return to the trail or go on many hikes again.

    It will take a cultural change of the people on the trails to sustain the trails. The current thru-hike trend will fade. Or hikers, people on the trail year round and/or every year will lead the change. Hikers will have to show by their actions and engage in conversation to educate all those on the trail. Or a combination of both.

    There’s no better feeling on the trail then busting your butt, dirty, sweaty and going no farther than a mile maintaining a section of trail and having a hiker pass by and thank you for making that mile a pleasure to travel. Now you both stop and discuss why you love being on the trail that sustains the trail.

  91. +1 to all the education and role model suggestions, though most effective on good-hearted hikers. Otherwise I advocate the creation of more vengeful “forest spirit” myths, perhaps of ones in the form of squirrelbears or windblown poison-ivy.

  92. I doubt that the PCT/AT hikers are the biggest problem. All the campsites and easy access points for the general public are likely the issue of crowding out the trail. Charge parking and camping fees at these access points and the population of messy campers will hopefully dwindle but also create some revenue for whoever owns the land (state and national government). Leave the thru-hikers alone but try and manage the surrounding access points better.

  93. I’d like to dramatically reduce the traffic on the pct and AT by establishing and publicizing so many other great national scenic trails that the traffic load on any one is greatly reduced. That, and require education before use. . . Yes that means more permit management and control. Grrr, but, it’s better than the alternative.

  94. what about setting up a permit system? one for those who are doing a thru-hike, and another for those only spending a few days hikin/camping? limiting the number of short permits would likely make a diffference.

  95. I do feel that everybody that wants to get on these trails should do their part in trail maintenance. Maybe a permit system where instead of paying with money, you can accrue volunteer hours to obtain the permit. This way it keeps the trail still available to those without aa lot of disposableincomee and people with money cannot just pay their way onto the trails.

  96. Education, education, education. Thru & section hikers should be LNT ambassadors, spreading the word and walkin the talk. The trails were designed to give access to natural areas and are working in that respect. We need more people to appreciate and protect our Mother. If the trail is too crowded for your liking, go off trail where permitted.

  97. Education, example, and the threat of fines.

    Educate with pamphlets and signs at the trail head and visitor centers.

    Lead by example: as ambassadors of the trails it’s our responsibility to educate by example.

    Fines: the treat alone may keep some from trashing the trails. And some is better than none.

  98. Fixing the economy should help. Fewer unemployed 20-something’s means less trail crowding. I think the issue of crowding is due to higher number of thru hikers. I’ve seen where overall numbers of backcountry nights are way down nationwide, so blaming this on the weekenders (of which I am one) isn’t totally fair.

  99. A limited # of permits need to be issued with half northbound and the other half southbound.

  100. tough problem. I suggest we identify the most destructive behaviors and do what we can to make those behaviors logistically difficult. Where individuals will not rise up in their quality of behavior, more education and official notice is required–teach the better ways on the one hand, and enforce better ways with targeted fines/tickets on the other.

  101. Don’t under-estimate the power of trail maintenance and trail adoption. In my opinion people are exponentially more likely to trash campsites and trails if there is already trash to be seen.

    On the other hand I routinely hike a nearby 5 mile loop trail and it is common to see stryrofoam Star Bucks coffee cups discarded at the side of the trail. How little effort would it take to carry an empty styrofoam cup back to the parking lot?

    I spent several years with a boy scout troop and leaving campsites better than you found them was the mantra. If everyone did that the trails would all look great inside of 6 months. When our troop was on a hike I would conspicuously pick up trash and place it in my pack for disposal at the trail head.

    Here in Missouri if you go on a river float trip the company that provides the rafts/canoes is required to also provide mesh trash bags. Maybe this could be considererd for trail heads.

  102. Here’s my suggested solution to reduce crowding on the PCT and AT:

    Hikers enter a lottery to win a ticket. Cost to enter would be minimal (to cover admin costs of the lottery) and tickets are granted based upon a variety of factors (start day, estimated mileage per day, days on the trail, level of impact camping methods and luck/randomness). Look at the lottery system for rafting on the Rogue River in southern Oregon. This way, hikers could be spaced out over time and priority would be given to those with minimal impact camping (those who do not create fires for cooking). I would note that the backpacking stoves that use twigs and pinecones for a fuel source should not be considered a cook fire (where they are allowed use).

  103. Education. People aren’t aware or simply don’t care about the impact they make on the environment.

  104. In addition to the important issues of education, technique, and various ways to harden the trails vs impact (trail maintenance, bear boxes) etc, i think it’s crucial to protect and preserve more wild space.With more people hiking, it’s important to preserve more space to disperse the impact, rather than channeling everyone onto a few trails.

  105. I live in the midwest, so I haven’t seen these problems on the big trails firsthand. I would love it if the answer were simply to blaze new trails, (across the nation) but that just stretches already thin resources. Unfortunately, an expanded permit system, combined with an increased ranger presence, seems to be the only really effective way of limiting usage, and with it resource destruction.

  106. I don’t have any problem with camping fees, though they’d probably just encourage more “thrus” to stealth camp irresponsibly. A fee for through-hiking? Not a bad idea; of course you could still do,the hike without registering, but I suspect recognition has a lot to do with why most people try it in the first place. Maybe a fee that’s refundable if you finish? Just thinking…

  107. I’ve read a lot of suggestions for fees, permits, limited access, and enforcement. I don’t see how any of these approaches could be put into practice in the real world. Think about how many access points there are to these trails. Think about how frequently thru-hikers walk off the trail for resupply or r&r then walk back on. How many Ranger Ricks would it take to administer any of these programs? The wilderness administrating agencies have been improving access to their properties, and attracting more users with publicity campaigns, then responding to the increased use with rules and permits etc. which, not coincidentally, is job security for their agency. If you want a hiking experience that isn’t overcrowded with philistines, you just have to go someplace that’s difficult to get to. That’s not the AT or PCT. Bottom line, they are what they are, and we can’t go back in time to what they used to be.

    • Yes! My thoughts exactly, except your point on “they are what they are”. I think it’s time to resurrect Woodsy The Owl.

  108. With the rise of population (and no control of its continual rapid growth), I see the only reasonable and responsible method to addressing this issue as pure regulation.

    We’ve had to introduce regulation in just about every other aspect of our interactions with the wild world (IE- Hunting, fishing, fire use, camping, etc.) for quite some time now due to such demands rising. As tragic as it certainly feels, maybe thru-hiking is the next on the list. To even take it one smarter step forward, I would hope the requirement of a basic leave-no-trace class/workshop would be required in order to attain a permit of passage, making the all-too-common trail nuisances such as “surface shitting” and and complete disregard to the laws of foraging dramatically reduce.
    We cannot expect the wilderness to match the demand of our rising populations. We must, instead, use our integrity and utmost respect by regulating OURSELVES so future generations may revel in the same glories as we!

  109. I think people who are serious about hiking and backpacking are generally more conscious about the “LNT” principles than “casual” users of trails and wilderness areas. Why not start some sort of grassroots campaign? Make it the “cool thing to do,” for thru-hikers and weekenders alike, to pick up trash along the way and dispose of it properly. I’m guessing that most thru-hikers check out videos on youtube about these trails before they go, so make that a part of the grassroots campaign. This would help to educate at least some people. Or, maybe this is just wishful thinking?

    I don’t think permits are the answer, necessarily, as that may keep too many people from being able to enjoy the trails. It’s a little different than purchasing a back country permit to camp along the trail in a national park. People should be able to use the trail if they want to, and that’s a good thing. Why regulate it further? Littering is illegal pretty much everywhere, and yet there is litter pretty much everywhere. Unfortunately, the more people there are, the more litter you’ll find.

    If you want to put up with the crowds on the AT and PCT, so be it. Enjoy it. If you want more of a wilderness experience, there are other places to hike. I, personally, will most likely not hike either of these trails, as I like going to experience the wilderness and the solitude, etc. — not a big party. To each his/her own, though, as everyone does this for their own personal reasons — which is how it should be.

  110. I don’t think people hiking trails is a problem. Rather, the more people who experience these national wonders and appreciate the wilderness, the more people there are who care about them and can work to protect and improve them. Every time I’m tempted to gripe about a busy trail, I check myself and instead am glad that they are outside being physical and connecting with the natural world rather than home watching TV and being programmed to be robots and consumers. Experience nature improves us all.

  111. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), should coordinate with area trash collection companies to donate trash cans placed at multiple places where the trail crosses roads and donate collections on those routes as the trucks are passing on their way to routes. It’s a win-win, the trail benefits by hikers having more trash drops, and the companies have the recognition of being environmentaly active and it’s a tax write-off for them.

  112. I myself maintain and promote trails in my area and am a bit torn. I’ve seen the uptake in use and the corresponding damage. However, without promotion of the trails, then funding won’t be present to support them. There is no silver bullet, attitudes need to be changed and that takes time and a consistent message. Education to promote awareness must be an integral part of promoting trails. Unfortunately, there will always be those who have no respect for these wonderful resources but hopefully by changing attitudes those can be in the small minority.

  113. As iconic as campfires are to the outdoor experience I think that an important step is to eliminate them. Enjoy your campfire while car camping or at a bonfire. I have seen lots of areas destroyed by careless, desperate attempts to find wood to burn. Another possible solution to reduce impact/crowding is to assign all hikers staggered start times. This isn’t fool proof as people hike at different rates and would eventually catch up to and pass others ahead of them, but it could be a start.

  114. I feel like a great majority of the negative impact is produced by those not thru hiking. People want to experience the trail or see it for themselves without the months and months of effort, which is completely fine. The issue lies in that they are usually not as invested in the preservation and upkeep of the trail because it doesn’t become their home for 6 months. They have a short lived view into life on the trail, but at the end of the day, or week, they leave and don’t have to deal first hand with the lasting impacts. It should be requisite to participate in a clean up or restoration project to gain a permit for entry. This would be difficult to regulate, but would be a good step towards getting people to become more invested in the nature around them. Also, in the case of the PCT, a large kick off event with nearly 1000 people in attendance is a sure way to clump a bunch of people together. Let peoples’ natural schedules dictate start times which will naturally thin things out.

  115. On the issue of human waste and how the ever increasing concentration of cat holes and poor disposal habits of hikers/backpackers detracts from the wilderness experience. Its high time that hikers/backpackers step up their game, practice appropriate trail stewardship, and pack out their waste using GO Bags (www.cleanwaste.com) – readily available from REI, NPS visitors centers, etc. A simple solution to a very ugly problem associated with high-use trails.

    • I am dismayed that so many of the respondents below think that LNT is equated with litter and trash pickup and not, as you point out, human waste disposal. Poop, bear incidents, campfire abuse, and overuse impacts due to rampant campsite proliferation are the biggest issues, at least on the AT.

      Pack out your human waste (make it mandatory)
      Require bear canisters (make it mandatory)
      Prohibit campfires (make it mandatory)
      Teach people how to leave a non-designated camp site pristine (educate)

      Those are the most pressing the LNT issues affecting the trails. Trash pickup is secondary and of far less importance than these others.

  116. It’s a matter of education. But, as with all areas in life, some people will never embrace leave no impact.

  117. No way to stop non-through hikers from using the trail, but it can be improved. Educating people on how they should treat the area is one. Enforcing higher penalties if something bad was done. More shelters could be built I suppose. Make more camp sites so there won’t be such a crowd at shelters. I’m sure there are many more, but that’s all I have.

    Rocco

  118. Education and presence…most people know they should not leave trash, or destroy pristine sites, but if no “official presence” ever appears, there is no fear of getting caught. Trail ranger-type programs,non-confrontational, but educational, in nature, may help with some folks…but enforcement of common sense rules may be ignored by a segment of outdoor folks.

  119. I am not sure that a permit system will work as much as educating the hikers of the need for LNT camping. LNT is a moral decision on a personal level and as such it is almost impossible to legislate or mandate. Education of the hikers that are new to the sport (and older ones that have forgotten) is a much more effective mechanism. I agree that anyone who has adopted a section of any trail and is responsible for maintenance of that section will be much more likely to abide by LNT principles. It all comes down to a personal decision to protect our resources.

  120. jeffrey winchester

    hikers have to police themselves
    Does not always work

  121. Education and peer enforcement are very important aspects of this problem. The perception of whether the problem lies more with thru-hikers or weekenders is an interesting one; but merely a perception. The thing is, in some way the thrus can be more involved with one another, but the weekenders seem harder to reach as a group because they aren’t necessarily accessing the resources that thru hikers do. I would love to see some of the major retailers also include LNT and other education materials with their shipments, or prominently in their email campaigns. Who likes encountering litter, hot firepits, or other signs of neglect and overuse? Best way to not ruin your weekend or months-long backpacking trip: clean up after yourself.

  122. Sadly the only ones that will get a permit are those that care about the out come. It is next to impossible to create oversite (Re: rangers policing those lacking permit) without ruining exactly what we are trying to experience and preserve. My positive observation is that at at every major entrance both passive and active educational opportunities be put in place. The only real solution is educating the masses especially the youth about how to enjoy and take care of our precious resource. While I do not believe permitting will stop the abuse it is the source of funding to underwrite the the education efforts

  123. Would like to think education would help but I’m not convinced that it will have much of an impact. There are too many offenders and not enough educators. Spent Saturday above treeline and watched one day hiker after another use the fragile alpine grasses as the path. I’ll admit that after a while I stopped trying to educate because my trip was being negatively impacted. Notices at trailheads and along the trails will be ignored – rarely, if ever, do people stop to read what is posted. Since hiking is becoming more popular LNT education may need to become more mainstream.

    • I talked to the Alpine Steward on Lafayette about this on Saturday. He said, “it’s no use trying to educate people when so many show up on a nice day in summer.” There were 600 people who went up Falling Water/Birdle Path alone. There were so many people off trail, tramping the alpine vegetation.

      • I actually yell at people when I catch them doing that. I remember distinctly one woman wearing cowboy boots along the gulfside, just trampling along parallel to the trail, ridiculous! When I told her what she was doing, she said “oh, I didn’t know” and got back on the trail.

  124. Oddly enough, I don’t think that education is the answer for much of anything. We should be one of the best educated societies in the world, but that hasn’t made us more respectful of the world that we live in. I do believe that the casual hikers are probably more of a threat than those who regularly hike, whether through or section hikers. I wonder if permits based on the number of successfully completed hikes would help.

  125. How to avoid: Litter, shelter vandalism, human waste disposal, campsites stripped of all burnable wood, widespread campsite proliferation, interpersonal conflicts, negative wildlife interactions? Common sense! Respect! Education! That’s it.

  126. I don’t think there’s a complete solution to these problems. In large part, they are simply the natural result of these trails’ increasing popularity. Any permit measures ought to be directed at education—say, requiring hikers to pass a simple test on responsible trekking, similar to California’s fire permit system. I would strongly oppose any measures to reduce the volume of hikers by increasing the cost to hike.

    A nominal fee for trail maintenance is fine, but anything expensive enough to “price out” poorer hikers would be, in my mind, an economic injustice. A key feature of the wilderness is its accessibility to all socioeconomic levels, and gentrifying these trails would be no less than a crime against their very ethos. If we can achieve some progress through education, I support that, but over time those who want to truly escape the problems incumbent upon overpopulation will simply have to find new trails.

  127. I think a harsher permit process like the one for the JMT would be a smart idea but I also think the addition of more long distance scenic trails would also help. Maybe give people more choices with similar benefits

  128. Education can help, but it has to be creative. Showing the cumulative effect of human abuse of the trails could help. This would need to be supported by increasing efforts to provide access to receptacles for waste

    • The problem with waste receptacles is you need someone to pick up the waste (who will pay to maintain that) and most of the time the trash I find is scattered along the trail and around the summits, not near the parking lots. The type of people that litter do not care about LNT and won’t carry the trash out just because there was a trash can back at the parking lot.

  129. I think the most damaged areas are the areas visited by tourists who are just coming by car and do a liitle walking. In all the wild areas that I visited the number of hikers is not high. Only the scenic places with easy access are overcrowded. These areas should be better organized. As an example is Mount Washington observatory where hugh percentage of visitors are the tourists not the hikers.

    • Yes I couldn’t agree more. Another example is Tripoli Road access to Mt Osceola, the Mt Osceola Trail. I was stunned at how much trash was left on the trail and I know it was from all the campers day hiking the mountain. I picked up as much as I could, but I’ve also never been back there again out of disgust.

  130. Trail life reflects human behaviour every where else. The individual is only thinking about own enjoyment not the community as a whole. LNT principles should be mandatory teaching in school and life.

  131. A permit system that requires people to participate in trail maintenance is definitely the way to go.

  132. I would go with the thru-hiker permit and a yearly quota of about 1000 people. The drawback is that the enforcement is quite difficult to achieve. In the meantime, other US long-distance hiking trails should be promoted and raised to a coolness-factor as high as the Triple Crown.

  133. The BWCA issues permits to limit the number of canoes on the trail at one time. This works well in the BWCA but I think the headaches would outweigh the benefit on the AT or the PCT. Having never hiked the AT or PCT I don’t know if these already exist or not but would posting some expectations at every trail head and campsite help with education? Flyers could even be available at heavily trafficked trail heads. Maybe having big LNT pushes in trail towns to remind hikers of their obligation to the trail. Without making these expectations part of trail culture all along the trail you will not get hikers to buy into it.

  134. A couple hours north of me is Turner Falls, a pretty park and waterfall. It is also one of the most overused and abused places I’ve ever been to. There’s a huge contrast between it and the National Parks I frequent, which often seem to have onerous regulations, however, the regulations do help to preserve the beauty of the place for future enjoyment.

    A thru hiking permit after receiving some training and education appears to be an answer, but on a two thousand mile stretch with hundreds of access points, it is hard to achieve and enforce. A lottery would be nice but many might just ignore it and hike anyway if they didn’t secure a permit. Spacing out the thru hike start times might lessen some of the damage but there is a relatively short window available for thru hiking.

    All of the above being said, it brings to mind what I heard at a safety meeting before a large volunteer construction project. The moderator asked “Who is in charge of safety here?” and received several replies, pointing out different overseers of the project. He then told us, “Repeat after me, ‘I am in charge of safety!’” The point he was making was that it wasn’t someone else’s responsibility, it was up to each one of us–I am in charge of safety. On the trail, I am in charge of preserving it. I can only undo so much of the careless damage of others, but I can do my little part by not contributing to it, cleaning up and mitigating what I can, and trying to educate as tactfully as possible those who are adding to the problem. I don’t think “in your face” confrontation works because it puts a person on the defensive. They might pick up their litter after being yelled at and then drop it around the corner, just to spite the person who dressed them down. I train my grandkids not to litter. When we hike, we have trash bags with us and pick up all the trash we find on the trail. I always want to leave the place better than I found it. I am in charge of safety. I am in charge of trail preservation.

    Another illustration I heard once was: A large storm had washed millions of starfish onto a beach. For miles, the shore was covered with them. An old man saw a boy stoop down, pick something up, and throw it in the water. He then repeated the process again and again. Curious, the man approached the boy and asked him what he was doing, whereupon the lad replied, “I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean.” The man sternly stated, “Look at all of them. They’re everywhere, what possible difference can you make?” The boy picked up another, tossed it in the water and said, “I made a difference to that one!” If every one of us tries to make what little difference when we can, hopefully the problem won’t get worse. OK, no environmental debates about what starfish overpopulation is doing to the coral reefs–I’m just repeating the illustration and the point of it.

    I am in charge of safety. I am in charge of trail preservation.

  135. I’m so torn on how to answer this. Permits would be an easy and trail use reduction solution. However I have a hard time turning over even more control of the use of the peoples land. I’m left with the solution of more education on LNT principles even possibly reevaluating them. Possibly creating levels of LNT education – wouldn’t we all went to be Master Hikers and lead by examples!

  136. I don’t believe restricting access is acceptable, we invented national parks and all citizens pay for this, so it’s everyone’s land. Let’s not punish the many for the sake of the naughty few who do not practice LNT. So NO to permitting, besides this does not prevent anyone from hiking without a permit. If we can’t guard the entire Mexican border, do you really think we can enforce permit hiking at all the trail heads?

    Further, if you see someone litter, confront them. If you don’t see who littered, pick it up, don’t leave it. I know Woodsy the Owl was kind of a cheesy public education icon, but this was effective for me as a child. I don’t have a tv but I’m willing to bet they do not broadcast public messages like they did in the 1970’s and 1980’s for eating well and not polluting etc. The littering and general LNT principles is a core cultural issue with Americans. You have to change public attitude if you really want to get anywhere. And I am willing to bet 97% of the population has NO IDEA what LNT is, or really means. So I guess it’s time to write our Congressmen.

  137. My wife works in transportation for the local school district. One day, a student threw trash on the ground and she confronted him. He replied, “Someone will pick it up.” She responded, “You’re right. Someone WILL pick it up, and that someone is YOU. Now, pick it up!” And he did. However, his attitude showed the mindset so many have: “Someone else will do it.”

  138. As someone who has just started section hiking the AT in the last year, I have witnessed the most damage to the trail on popular and/or easy access parts of the trail. I can always tell when a road is ahead by the increase in trash – trash left behind by day hikers, local kids that have found a place to party (and in PA at least it is also due to hunters abusing and ignoring LNT in state game lands that overlap the AT.) To address these concerns, I like the idea of trash and recycling cans being available at road and parking sites. Also, hunters should be required to take LNT education before obtaining a license.

    For general trail health, I believe an increase in the number of privies and an absolute ban on fires would help.

    To address the overuse at the start of the trail, I think there should be more encouragement of alternative forms of thru hikes, such as the flip flop thru hike.

  139. Perhaps a required bit of education, on proper maintenance and respect of the land. However, another solution may have to be harsher penalties and fees(for littering and such).

  140. It would be nice to have a fancy ad agency create an awareness campaign and donate some media space to this. That would hopefully educate/guilt people into respecting nature.

  141. A purchased permit, rather unfortunately, would not deter rich hikers (thru or day) with a tendency to an entitled attitude, who might be the ones to litter, destroy and disregard LNT. A permit in return for volunteer hours would be better, but would preclude foreign hikers who can’t get a visa long enough for a thru-hike and the required volunteer hours.

    In the UK we have “volunteer holidays” run by organisations like the National Trust, where volunteers pay a small amount in return for bed and board, and go out to maintain mountain trails, or look after national monuments and stately homes during the day. It’s not quite the same crowd of people as the thru-hikers, but offers a nice solution to the conservation issue.

    A way to deter the inconsiderate version of the regular hiker might to be to make it less easy to hike something like the AT (which is sad for the rest of us) or to engender such disapproval from the rest of the community that it’s not a fulfilling experience for the disrespectful ones (though if they travel in groups, or are day hikers, this seems less effective). As always education, fostering respect for others and the environment, is not an overnight change, but the only guarantee of success.

  142. Agreed–in my hiking in the White Mountains, it’s usually the poorly prepared day hikers or overnighters with little or no understanding that cause the problem. That said, I also see a lot of backpackers online in forums talking about the best ways to get away with stealth camping near the AMC huts and so forth. More enforcement then? So I agree–charge us hikers and backpackers like hunters and fishermen get charged. We consume the wild too, just in a different way, and should do our part.

  143. 1) Enforcing better the few rules that there are, would be much more effective than adding more rules that would be hard to enforce. Because of the hundreds of entry points onto the trail, it is unreasonable to require registrations or permits for backpacking. 2) In the long term it would be helpful to buy up more land and make the trail less accessible rather than more accessible. The more difficult it is to get to a place, the less chance of people disrespecting it. 3) Allow for more dispersed camping, especially for hammocks. Develop a permit system that requires training that would allow the backpacker (thru-hiker or section-hiker) to be exempt from other regulations. The permit holder would be able to stealth camp in places where it is now not allowed and the reason is that the permit holder would know how to do it safely, courteously, and LNT compliant.

  144. Sydney Evans won the Bear Bag Raffle. Congrats Sydney!

    And many thanks for all of your excellent comments about how we can mitigate overcrowding issues on our National Scenic Trails. That was a good discussion.

  145. As a postscript – Virginia Tech professor Jeff Marion is leading a team to study hiker impact on the AT and make recommendations:

    http://www.timesnews.net/article/9078619/virginia-tech-professor-to-lead-team-studying-hiker-impact-on-appalachian-trail

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