ATC to Resume 2000-Miler Program, Says Thru-Hikes Now “Safer”

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announced on Tuesday that “long-distance hiking on the A.T. is now considered to be a safer activity.” The Conservancy will recognize thru-hikers and 2000-milers for the first time since March 31, 2020, when it paused its registration and recognition process due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of the decision, ATC will re-open facilities in Harper’s Ferry, WV and Monson, ME. It will resume issuing hangtags to registered hikers. The Conservancy will acknowledge miles hiked since May 11, 2021 toward 2000-miler status. However, in accordance with its previous guidance, ATC will still not recognize miles hiked prior to that date during the pandemic.

“We have followed the science, particularly recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We have monitored conditions on the ground, and we continue to collaborate with our local, state, and federal agency partners; with Trail maintaining clubs; with Trailside communities; and with the hiker community to ensure coordination across the A.T.,” the organization wrote on its website.

Vaccine Now Widely Available

The ATC’s COVID-19 Task Force was waiting for one of two criteria to be fulfilled before it would endorse long-distance hiking: for the CDC to determine that the pandemic was under control, or for a vaccine or treatment to become widely available. “We have determined that the second of these criteria has been fulfilled, and significant gains have been made toward fulfilling the first,” ATC said.

To date, roughly 35% of Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since distribution began last December. Nearly half have received at least one dose. Experts say at least 70-85% of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Relaxed Restrictions

In addition to the broad availability of vaccines, ATC cited the CDC’s relaxation of outdoor masking guidelines and a reduction in regional pandemic restrictions.

The CDC announced on April 27 that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can now go outside without a mask and can safely gather in small groups outdoors.

The US Forest Service also announced in late April that it would reopen AT shelters on Forest Service lands from Georgia to Virginia, such that a majority of AT shelters are now open to the public. (Significant shelter closures and camping restrictions still exist between northern Virginia and Massachusetts).

Finally, all 14 Appalachain Trail states have either removed or relaxed out-of-state travel restrictions such as mandatory quarantines.

Hikers Should Still Exercise Caution

“While we are excited to resume some of our programs put on pause for the last year, we remind everyone that there are still risks associated with hiking on popular and often-crowded trails like the A.T.,” ATC reminded hikers in its updated guidance.

Trail users should continue to practice social distancing and mask up indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. And the Conservancy recommends tenting rather than staying in shelters.

Getting vaccinated prior to hitting the trail will also significantly reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. (Anyone age 16 or older in the US is currently eligible to be vaccinated).

As always, long-distance hikers should register their trips with and practice Leave No Trace principles.

“The ATC acknowledges the past year has required significant sacrifices both within and outside the A.T. community of volunteers, supporters, and hikers,” the organization wrote.”We thank everyone who has taken, and continues to take, extra steps to help combat this pandemic.”

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Comments 4

  • Cosmo A Catalano : May 14th

    There are 100’s of hikers on the trail right now, using shelters and interacting “normally” on the Trail. Is there a single instance in the past year where hikers were known to have contributed to an outbreak in a trail town, or been part of a transmission event? Glad to hear things are “safer” now, the teapot was pretty windy for a while there.

  • Bill Brokob : May 14th

    Of course I understand why the ATC had to tread carefully. As far as them “following the science” , I think they were more following the CDC, which was following the science but were many miles behind that science. The incredibly small chance of outdoor transmission was known at least a year ago. Thankfully, plenty of hikers could see that clearly without waiting for “permission” from the CDC (or the ATC)
    Not counting miles walked before getting that permission seems kind of petty.

  • tom miller : May 14th

    The entire approach by the ATC has been following political climate/correctness–and not science.. I am so disappointed in the ATC–so much that I will not renew my membership and not financially contribute as I have in the past. But I will continue to like the trail for many years to come.

    To all those thru-hikers that started earlier in the year –the heck with the ATC recognition. Do this for yourself and not what the ATC may say. Refusing to recognize the hundreds of hikers that started earlier in 2021 is ridiculous and unprofessional. Power grab by ATC. Hey–it is not their trail anyway.

    Congrats to you all for taking the challenge on. No matter how far you get –be proud—you will never regret it. “One person with courage–is a majority’.


  • Shannon : May 18th

    I’m probably one of the few people who give the ATC some grace on this one. They’re in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation. Last year none of us really knew what the hell was going on and information was constantly evolving and it still is to some degree. Fortunately, we know now that covid is highly unlikely to be transmitted outdoors and that the likelihood of an outbreak on the trail or in the trail towns is minimal but still, I understand why they weren’t encouraging thru-hikes this year. Just a few months ago cases were out of control and the worst they had ever been so I can’t blame them for being cautious and not championing thru-hikes this year. I am glad that now that cases are starting to get under control and that the vaccine is widely distributed that the ATC kept their word and are now acknowledging thru-hikers and are reopening things along the trail. Honestly, if the ATC didn’t take the stance they did a few months ago, I wonder how much more crowded the trail would be and if that really would have been safe or sustainable especially given how much foot traffic it got last year. Maybe it would’ve been fine regardless of what their stance was, I’m not sure if the ATC’s original stance actually dissuaded thru-hikers from attempting their hikes this year. I think folks made the decision that was right for them and their circumstances and that’s what counts. I fully support thru-hikers out there and completely understand those who disagree with the ATC but ultimately, I can understand the ATC’s perspective and stance. Maybe their stance was unnecessary to some, but those who were determined to thru-hike are out there and I wish them all the best. Anyone who is pursuing a thru-hike has my absolute respect and admiration. I’m just grateful things are finally improving and we’re getting closer to some semblance of normalcy!


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