Last year, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) temporarily paused its 2,000-miler recognition program in an effort to discourage thru-hikers from potentially spreading Covid in trail communities. But this week, the organization announced that they would be reinstating the program.
According to this release, those who hiked prior to the revocation of the 2,000-miler program in March 2020 and those who are still hiking after May 11, 2021 can submit an application to receive recognition for their trail miles. The organization will issue backpack hangtags to those who desire them, and ATC facilities in West Virginia, Maine, and Pennsylvania will reopen.
The move to resume the program comes as the organization acknowledges that with the Covid-19 vaccine widely available, transmission of the virus in the United States has slowed.
“This update was issued in light of the widespread availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifying outdoor activities like hiking as posing significantly lower risks for spreading the virus, even among small groups of both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” the ATC said in a press release. The CDC has since updated its guidelines to indicate that vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks in the vast majority of circumstances.
The ATC took relatively quick action after the pandemic began in 2020. On March 14 of that year, the organization announced it would close its headquarters in Harper’s Ferry and limit the size of trail crews. In a blog post a few days later, ATC CEO Sandra Marra urged hikers who were on their way to the trail to cancel their plans, and counseled those already thru-hiking to head home.
“We do not make this request lightly,” Marra wrote at the time. “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.”
With closures now lifting along the trail, 2021 is shaping up to be a different story. Along the AT, shelters between Georgia and Virginia have reopened, and many trail businesses remain hopeful for a successful 2021 season. However, the ATC still cautions those who choose to head to the trail to do their research and take precautions. The 55 shelters that the National Park Service maintains from Virginia to Maine remain closed, although privies are available for use again, and the state of Massachusetts is still prohibiting overnight camping on state lands.
Taking precautions like getting vaccinated prior to your hike, camping in your own shelter whenever possible, and continuing to wear a mask in crowded areas or where unvaccinated people are present may help to reduce the transmission of Covid-19. If you’re already on the trail, it’s not too late to get your jab: If you’d like to get vaccinated during your hike, it’s possible to find national resources here.