If those vaccine selfies popping up in your timeline have you feeling optimistic about your hiking plans this year, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy doesn’t feel the same way. Like in 2020, the organization is encouraging hikers to stay home to avoid spreading the virus, and won’t recognize those who do hike as 2,000-milers.
In March 2020, the ATC released a letter asking hikers to “stay away from the Appalachian Trail.” But the organization went a step further when it stated that: “The ATC will not recognize thru-hikes that continue after March 31, 2020 or for those who traveled through any areas that were posted closed when the hiker entered.”
With Covid cases continuing to climb, the organization is still concerned. Sandra Marra, the ATC’s president and CEO, discourages thru-hikers from hitting the trail.
“I think people should be staying close to home,” Marra says. “And if they are outside, they should be masked. If they choose to do an overnight on a local trail, minimize any contact to and from the trailhead.”
The ATC’s guidance isn’t the only thing standing in thru-hikers’ way this season. All shelters on Forest Service land between the trail’s southern terminus and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia are closed, while all overnight camping along the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts is prohibited. Eight Appalachian Trail states currently have quarantine, testing requirements, or other restrictions in place for visitors.
The organization hopes to reinstate the 2000-miler recognition program but will be looking to experts to determine when it’s safe to do so. Hikers can expect the ATC to withhold formal recognition for thru-hikes until the CDC, “states that special precautions are no longer necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19 or ATC issues an announcement.”
Marra adds that the ATC is aware that hikers aren’t the only ones suffering from pandemic-related closures, with businesses in trail towns hurting from the loss in revenue.
“We hope that under the new administration there will be some opportunities to look at long term economic relief for these rural communities across the board,” Marra says. “We’re really looking to get support from the federal government, not to just bail out large corporations.”
Unlike the 2020 season, hiker registration will remain open for the 2021 season.