The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking thru-hikers to postpone or cancel their planned trips, citing the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus along the way.
In a statement posted to the group's website, CEO Sandra Marra acknowledged that aspiring thru-hikers had "scrimped and saved" and invested countless hours in planning their journeys, but said that the risk of passing along the illness had become too great.
"We do not make this request lightly," Marra wrote. "We manage and protect the A.T. because it is meant to be hiked. However, the practices necessary to support a section or thru-hike may make A.T. hikers vectors to spread COVID-19 — whether congregating at shelters or around picnic tables, traveling to trailheads in shuttle vans, or lodging at the various hostels up and down the Trail."
Instead, Marra suggested that hikers consider "consider alternate ways of connecting to the Trail and to the outdoors." Hikers already on the Appalachian Trail should head home, she added.
If thru-hikers insist on continuing, the ATC asks that they do not start at Springer Mountain to avoid crowding, camp instead of sleeping in shelters, and make sure they have the financial resources to isolate themselves should they contract COVID-19.
Most experts agree that outdoor recreation is relatively safe during the ongoing pandemic, assuming that hikers maintain a safe distance from one another. However, the Appalachian Trail is famously social, concentrating hikers at shelters and in train towns. As Marra points out, thru-hiking the trail is likely to be unusually difficult this year, as small-town businesses close and trail angels opt to stay home.
In a statement on Monday, the Pacific Crest Trail Association stopped short of asking PCT hikers to stay away, instead urging users to practice personal responsibility and listing the permits hikers who can't make their assigned start date will have to obtain. On Facebook, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition reiterated the CDC's advice against non-essential travel; for locals, it said, the CDT is still a great place to practice social distancing.