Backpacker Radio 65 | Sandi Marra on Why the ATC Is Asking People to Avoid the Appalachian Trail

We’re joined by Sandi Marra, the president and CEO at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  As we noted at the top of our previous podcast, the news and guidelines around COVID-19 and the trail system have been changing rapidly.  At the time of the previous recording, the ATC asked people to postpone their thru-hikes.  Since that recording, the ATC has increased the severity of their recommendations by urging people to avoid the Appalachian Trail altogether, even for day hikes.

Today’s interview will largely center around that subject, including how the ATC arrived to this decision, when Sandi predicts that the trail will be safe to hike and backpack again, among many other coronavirus-related questions.
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  • Sandi Marra of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
    • Why was this decision reached to ask all people to stay off the Appalachian Trail?  Both in the context of backpacking and day hiking.
    • What does she have to say to those who are still on the trail?
    • What guidance does she have for those who want to get off but are having trouble finding resources?
    • When does she foresee the trail reopening?
    • Her thoughts on hiking in general right now?
  • The Trek will be helping to put together a resource for those who are looking for a ride from the trail in the near future.
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  • Intro Song: Walking Slow by Animal Years
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Comments 4

  • ALLAN MITCHELL : Mar 26th

    I wish Sandra had addressed the hundreds of foreign nationals who are on the trail. Our adult daughter is on trail and has chosen not to come off and come back to Canada, she is not trapped in the states but she speaks of the hundreds of good folks from Europe, New Zealand, Australia etc. who have nowhere else to go. They can’t go home now that there are air restrictions.

  • Nikki : Mar 27th

    Just listened to this episode and was literally sobbing when Sandi says she doesn’t think SOBO will be an option this year. I was suppose to leave for my NOBO thru hike last weekend and decided to post pone, with my last hope being to do a SOBO hike later this year. I’ve spent the last year planning and scraping to get everything ready for my hike. I quit my job and now have no chance of finding work. I’m stuck at home, utterly depressed, doing the right thing but feeling absolutely terrible about it.

    I really love this podcast, but this one was a straight up smack in the face. I totally understand where you are coming from by putting out this message and trust me I am with you but I really wish you were balancing this out with anything hopeful at all.

    Again I love you guys and you make great content, but we’ve all heard so much of the gloom and doom lately. Anything uplifting would be appreciated.

  • Bluebird : Mar 27th

    This is an unprecedented time. A time that is fluid, with guidance changing in moments. There are changes that come abruptly, when you are already in motion.
    We made an appointment to have two cats spayed. It would be about two months that we would have to wait before it could be done. We diligently awaited the day. Both cats came in heat, both were kept inside,
    which made for some stressful weeks. Both cats came back in heat, which, again, made for stressful days.
    We received a reminder email for their appointment. I was so happy the day was arriving. Happy for me, happy for them.
    The day before their appointment, less than about 16 hours before we were to take them, I received an email: the appointment had been cancelled due to the Governor announcing all non essential businesses to close: I just wanted to hang my head between my knees. On the scale of life and death, and the Coronavirus, and its effects, it’s not the same: but, nevertheless, I was crushed. We are doing all we can to keep these cats out of a shelter, or, euthanized; and, to get to the door of our appointment and to have it closed, was demoralizing.
    Yet, we regroup our emotions, desires, needs, and wait; with the kitties.
    The cats jump up on the door knob and try to turn it to open the door. They now jump up higher to the latch trying to unlatch the lock, then jump to the knob. They are smart. They know the latch and the door somehow holds the key for the door to open and to get outside.
    One cat went missing. The door was shut, so, where did the cat go. The cat had gone in the bathroom, opened a cabinet door, and pushed the siding at the water heater open enough to get outside: quarantine is hard on all.
    These are trying times.
    People cannot go see love
    ones who are dying, or, at least the number who can visit are limited; funerals are limited to ten. My father died three days ago.
    My husband still goes to work everyday. His work is considered essential; auto parts. Social distancing at his work, not always possible; a risk.
    Life is different, and is changing daily.
    The Appalachian Trail is a great outdoors opportunity for many. Many people have sacrificed so the trail is what it is today. Parts of the trail would not be connected if private land owners had not sacrificed some of their land to allow the trail to continue through.
    Communities have given to promote the trail and communities have prospered because of the trail.
    The trail has been hiked by the lone hiker, groups, and families; strangers have bonded, friendships have been forged, memories have been made.
    Some have come to be known as day hikers, section hikers, and thru hikers.
    Some hike ultra light, some hike light, some as light as they can; others have hiked with a rolled up bag over their shoulder in tennis shoes.
    The trail is diverse. The people are diverse. The methods of hiking are diverse.
    The trail mantra is, “hike your own hike.” All hikers are unique, no matter the mileage hiked, or the method applied. Each hiker is a part of the Appalachian Trail. Each hiker can contribute to each other.
    We hike. We are day hikers. We hiked OAB (out and back; twice, point to point).
    We have meet many hikers: day hikers, section hikers, thru hikers, local evening hikers, etc. I have conversed with many. I have pictures of many hikers. Every encounter with a hiker is different, though there is a connection no matter what type of hiker they are: we all are hikers, we all love the trail.
    Some thru hikers have said that they wished they were hiking the trail like us. We have given water to a hiker who said they didn’t think they would make it to their next water source. We have left trail magic of Gatorade, drinks, juice, water, etc. on our way in on our hike, telling hikers a cooler of drinks were ahead. We received many thanks, and were told it inspired them to push on. We have said yes when asked for rides, been yogi’d; others we have offered food to, and they gladly took it. One in a thru bubble, looked disoriented, not knowing where the trail was: we got him headed in the right direction (not sure if heat or weed was affecting him).
    We all can inspire and help each other. One mom was with her teenager children, they about venerated me when as we talked they learned I was resting at about an 8 mile mark. I was equally impressed when they headed back down the trail to their car: they were out together as a family, together, making memories.
    Some may think day hikers hinder thru hikers, most of the time there is a mutual benefit. I have had a thru hiker I met on trail, see me later outside at Loft Mountain store and come over and hug me and talk; just awesome bonds. Some day hikers may be glad when the bubble passes; the trail can be quieter, more solitude; like when all the neighborhood kids go back to school; but, most enjoy encountering thru hikers and cheer them on.
    I certainly have.
    We are all in this together. On the trail, and off the trail.
    Everyone is experiencing some type of loss. Sometimes it takes a while to let go of something that are holding on to; even for the greater good.
    Hikers invest alot into planning their hike. Even, I, as a day hiker pour over the guide books; calculating how many miles we can do before a turnaround, with the thought of connecting the next hike to the prior, and where is there a place to park, and how many miles and hours to drive to where we will hike. Also, when we get too far away for a come home hike, what camping options do we have, what reservations need to be made? Then packing the vehicle, unpacking on arrival, or get in a short hike, then set up;
    what’s the weather going to be.
    The weather can really be a variable to reckon with. Nice days can be a valuable commodity. Spring can be really wet; spring flooding, mud slides, etc. Summer: hot, humidity, thunderstorms, tall weeds, poison ivy, ticks, copperheads, rattlesnakes, bears on trail (I have experienced them all- 14 miles in 102°F heat index).
    End of Summer/Fall, Hurricane season ( we were at Big Meadows Campground in tents when Hurricane Florence came
    Also, we reserved a campsite at Big Meadows Campground for peak leaf season to have our low temp 28°F, then the ice storm that closed Shenandoah National Park until later in the next year.
    So, pretty days are a premium. Also, age and opportunity factor into wanting to finish what you planned.
    Young people may have opportunities now that won’t be there for awhile. Older people know they may not have many more opportunities either; time, health, and the end of your life trail shortening daily. All may see this as my time. Yes, my time. It’s your time. Some have already faced pain, sorrow, deaths, responsibilities, and now, is their time. Yet, Coronavirus, changes that.
    It may take time to let go. I remember a older woman at a church sitting on the pew looking sad, distraught, and by herself.
    I sat beside her. She told me her husband died and everybody keeps telling her to move on. She said didn’t want to move on. Her husband was a preacher. She knew he was in a better place. She knew everything everyone was telling her; but, she did not feel it. She was sad. She was grieving. She had a lost. She missed her husband. She did not want to move on. She cried. I sat. We neither moved on.
    Coronavirus has caused us all to lose some things. Each lost is real. All are dealing with their new realities. We all move at different paces.
    I want to hike the AT now. It’s nice weather, I have the opportunity now; the trail may be there later, the opportunity for me to be there may not be.
    I know there are other hikers who want to hike now. The very thing that makes a successful thru hiker, or, any hiker whose goal is to make it to their destination is determination, not letting go of your goal, your dream; continuing, without quitting.
    Yet, some hikers have died when the goal outplaced wisdom when circumstances changed.
    Circumstances have changed.
    As we move on daily, let us not judge one another. Sometimes we will walk together, sometimes we will sit together.
    Each person is dealing with their own reality. Those who are first hand dealing with death may later need a place away from death. They may need a trail, even if not the AT; they may need a chair. They may need to get away. Sometimes when you have had to deal with sickness, illness and death often, you want life. You just want to not see any more death. You want life.
    A sunny day, a walk free, can go a long ways.
    Like hiking, every day, like every mile, we get closer to our victory.
    The end of this Coronavirus pandemic will be our Katahdin.


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