Be the change the hiking community needs

It’s no secret that the tension between thru hikers and the trail communities are at an all time high.  There’s no shortage of articles of people condoning the actions by the few, that are harming the many.  I have seen countless educational articles and pleas to do better.  To me that shows that people truly care, which is fantastic.  They want things to improve to maintain the awesomeness of the AT.  But knowledge and pleas unfortunately are just not enough.  Knowledge and pleas have put us in the position that Baxter is considering removal of the AT from the park allegedly.  We need genuine action, and we can to do it together.  Strength in numbers.  It is up to us to be the change the hiking community needs.

The principles of Leave No Trace are covered in abundance.  I fully support the 7 LNT principles and hope you do as well.  I believe we need to take it further for the long term sustainability of the AT.  I don’t mean more extreme, like no stepping on moss or ferns in the trail.  I mean we need to expand our effort towards others.  (Queue the cliché quote: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.)  You can lead a hiker to water but you can’t make them go to the bathroom 200 feet away.  You can however remind them it’s not acceptable to do this.

Okay… time out!  Before you start to think to yourself; “man this guy is a know-it-all and needs to mind his own business!”   Let’s take a step back and remember that the trail and the trail magic only continue when both parties benefit.  All the thunderstorm hitch hikes, summer time ice cold beers, rides to town for you and your 3 smelly friends, and the 250 maintained shelters are all run on a voluntary basis.  They are perceived as mutually beneficial.  Smiles for seats, supper and suds.  If someone is ruining those things we love and dream about, those things will cease to exist in reality.

We need to take away the support and enjoyment of someone’s trip who is ruining it for the rest of us. As the saying goes, the trail provides.  But the less people there are helping those who don’t actually deserve it, the less the enjoyment they will have.  You don’t have to be the over the top; you dropped a grain of rice in nature, bring out the stockade!  I’m not saying go out of the way to sabotage their trip for any reason.  Remember, I also wrote about simply using discretion when I talk about drinking a Nugget Nectar atop Katahdin.

As a community we need to distance ourselves from the people most harming the relationship between hikers and the trail communities.  We also need to make it known we will not support them due to their actions.  I know for a fact that our beloved trail angels share information with eachother about hikers.  More than Santa, trail angels know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

Many people will maintain “it’s not my place to tell someone….”  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  As a section hiker, day hiker, or thru hiker, it is all of our place to make sure we can enjoy the trail for years to come.  We owe it to future generations to do what we can to preserve its awesomeness for them.

gandhiOthers will maintain the “Well, I called the park service/police on them.”  This is honestly a waste of tax payer dollars for most trail problems.  While they are trying to track down a person of interest for questioning about toilet tagging that person wields their sharpie like a black lightsaber on down the trail.  (Note: True emergencies do require emergency responders such as theft or violence.)

Often times at work I am responsible for helping people improve their performance.  I could have worded that; it’s my job to tell people they’re doing things wrong.  But it’s all about perspective.  Most people do not take well to criticism at work.  Let alone nature that belongs to all of us.  In my experience it’s all about personality and approach.  I could walk up and yell an employee for 10 minutes about their attitude and why they’re doing something wrong.  But that’s not me, and I hope it’s not you either.  That will probably result in the exact opposite of the desired outcome.  Instead lets focus on their actions, not attitude.  It may be a simple lack of knowledge as to why someone isn’t doing something.  Or it could be a genuine hiker trashole tagging shelters and rocks with spray paint.  Different problems, different approaches.

By observing a behavior and not stepping up, we are telling that person their behavior is acceptable.  The more frequently the behavior is perceived to be acceptable, the more frequently it will be repeated.

On the other side of the coin lets start showing more appreciation for the things we may have begun to take for granted.  Thanking people for every ride, lunch, beer at least 3 times is a great start.  Tip everyone not just your bartender or server, in fact OVER TIP.  Offer money(or something) to every trail angel or good Samaritan that helps you.  Trust me, more than most won’t even consider taking it.  But that gesture will show them they are appreciated and their behavior will continue.  If my mother knew how many thru hikers my dad has given rides to in the past 30 plus years, she would have a heart attack.  People will continue those behaviors(read: kind gestures) because they want to feel appreciated again.

I know of a well know hiker watering hole along the AT that will put their Wi-Fi passcode in your phone for free, if you ask nicely.  One of their biggest pet peeves is people not being courteous and expecting free Wi-Fi.  Free Wi-Fi is a gift from a business, lets show our appreciation.  If you don’t know how, you can write them a note and thank them.  If you’re out of paper, the government prints some in green.

For less than 50 cents, you can buy a custom professional printed postcard from AND mail it.  Let’s face it, everyone loves postcards.  My family still has a postcard I sent to them in 2006 while visiting Yellowstone hung up in their kitchen.  I recently spent an evening at the world famous Trail Angel Mary’s home in Duncannon PA.  She has a ton of thank you postcards from hikers spanning years, even decades hung up in her home.  Do you think those hikers knew how much she appreciated a 50 cent post card?  I found out the moment I stepped inside her door.

Positivity alone or negativity alone won’t solve the problems we are facing.  It’s an offense and defense strategy.  Some will be able to adapt to one side more than the other.  With anything practice does make perfect.  The trail in all its wonder, magic and glory is ours to lose.

H/T Derek Sivers and TedTalks for this amazing must see, 3 minute video!!

What suggestions do you have on how we can take action with those few that are ruining our reputation and relationships?  How else can we heal the wounds of the ever increasing knuckleheads out there?  Leave your comments below.

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Comments 2

  • Chiefhiker : Oct 14th

    If you want to give hikers a better reputation to people in towns along the trail one suggestion I might make is every chance you get when you are nearing town or walking into or through a town and you see someone else’s trash, stop and pick it up, then deposit it in a trash receptacle in town as you pass through. If you have a small plastic bag from a store and pick up whatever litter you see as you approach or walk through town and you don’t see a trash receptacle as you are walking along-go into a business and ask if they can dispose of the litter you picked up as you were hiking into or through their town. Instant positive publicity for the hiking community. When I was a child and my parents took us on a picnic or other outing my parents always had us to clean up the area we used of all the litter present before we left. It didn’t matter that it was left by someone else. We were taught to leave an area cleaner than we found it. If you can’t pick up all the trash you see, remember that everything you do makes a difference!

  • Steven Disser : Oct 22nd

    In 2013 I hiked most of the trail Northbound. I was behind the pack and could tell that folks in the hiker towns were simply over dealing with hikers just by their demeanor and their attitudes towards me. I am currently hiking Southbound and this year the communities are taking it a step further and actually cutting off hiker services. I have heard of (and experienced first hand) several hostels and other amenities that have been operating for decades who are now closing their doors. For example, I was just in Palmerton, PA. It turns out the jailhouse is now closed due to disrespectful hikers. Yesterday I was in Port Clinton. The lady at the post office, a section hiker herself, was talking about how loud and disrespectful the hikers have been this year. Other examples are as follows: the Cookie Lady went a few days without allowing hikers to camp due to some unfortunate incident with hikers. Tom Lavardy is rumored to be removing himself from the guide and will no longer allow camping. The garden center near Pawling has cut off camping. I could continue, but you get the point.

    It is possible to have a good time while still respecting and showing appreciation for those who make the trail special, not to mention LNT guidelines. It is very disappointing to me to see the way this is going. I had a couple run-ins early on with some Northbound groups that were very disrespectful towards me and my girlfriend. It is very obvious who these people are. You know them almost as soon as you meet them. To be a leader, you sometimes have to be unpopular and speak out for what is right. Although, the initial interaction may not go well, your words will resound in their minds. We need more people on the trail willing to speak up and not let these behaviors continue. Otherwise, in a few years, life along the Appalachian Trail may be vastly different.


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