Spanning some 2,189 miles, the famous Appalachian Trail is set to become even more famous still with the release of A Walk in the Woods - the big screen adaptation of Bill Bryson's bestselling memoir. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) expects to see a sizeable increase in visitors to the trail, just as it did following the release of the book, which raises an important question - how can the trail be protected?
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Because of course, with an upswing in visitors comes greater footfall in delicate areas of natural wilderness, and all the things that may come with it - litter, disturbing of wildlife, increased noise and the suchlike. However, the good news is that the ATC has already taken a series of steps to protect the trail while welcoming more hikers keen for an authentic outdoors adventure. Each and every visitor has their own part to play, so you can look forward to helping protect the trail even as you explore it!
- Leave No Trace
To raise awareness of how each visitor can help safeguard the trail from harm, the ATC has launched new education and awareness initiatives in conjunction with Leave No Trace. The aim is to give people an understanding of how they can inadvertently damage the environment, and how this can be prevented.
Leave No Trace offers a wealth of helpful hints for hikers, including how to start off on the right foot by planning ahead, the kinds of surfaces to hike and camp on, how to dispose of waste safely, how to be considerate towards other hikers and wildlife, and much more.
- Trail Karma
The ATC also supports the Trail Karma programme, which is a very different kind of scheme to Leave No Trace - though they both have the welfare of the trail at their heart. Using social media and incentives, the initiative's ethos is "If you take care of the Trail, the Trail will take care of you, that's Trail Karma!".
Its current scheme is the use of Trail Karma Pendants, 500 of which are dotted around the trail. It is hoped that hikers will pass these on to one another as a way of showing their respect for the trail, and thanking one another for taking good care of it.
- Trail-maintaining clubs
The ATC also works with more than 30 trail-maintaining clubs, which are a vital part of keeping the route open and in good condition. Populated primarily by volunteers, these clubs do everything from simply monitoring the trail and keeping an eye on rare plants to building shelters and developing management plans for their local section of trail. The ATC helps out by providing a mixture of funding, training and management programmes.
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What you can do
Knowing that you are doing your bit to help protect this wonderful, wild and beautiful path can be one of the most rewarding elements of visiting, particularly as maintaining it is such a collective effort - you really feel a part of something.
No matter how you choose to tackle the trail, whether on a day trip, a ten-day adventure or an epic thru-hike, independently or with a specialist tour operator, there is a lot you can do to protect this most exciting of hiking routes. Here are some of the simplest and most effective ways of protecting the environment and wildlife, and ensuring a good experience for your fellow hikers:
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- Reduce waste by repackaging your food into resealable bags.
- Take your rubbish with you - never leave it behind, even if it is something biodegradable like fruit peel.
- Stay on the trail itself; even small deviations can expand and even create new paths, both of which increases the overall size of areas without vegetation. Similarly, you can help by resting in areas that already are devoid of vegetation, or have durable surfaces, like rocks. Other tips including removing branches blocking the route (if possible) to prevent additional trail expansion by people going around them, and wearing waterproof footwear and clothing so you don't need to avoid large puddles.
- Do not remove any plants or other natural objects from the trail.
- Check your footwear and clothing for non-native seeds before you begin to help avoid introducing new species.
- Keep loud voices and other noises to a minimum.
- Add rubber tips for your trekking poles - this not only reduces noise, but also prevents leaving small holes in the trail and scratching rocks.