Park spokesman responds to hikers' questions, concerns about backcountry management
From Staff Reports
Question: Why can through-hikers camp outside when the shelters are full, but not section-hikers? Does it really matter who is being put out to tent?
Answer: The Park’s willingness to try and accommodate AT through-hikers is a long-standing practice, due primarily to the recognition that the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a unique resource within the ark and through-hikers are a unique user of the AT, with significant planning and logistical challenges that other users, such as section hikers and day hikers, can more readily plan for and overcome. If folks are starting and ending their AT hike at least 50 miles outside the Park, they are considered through-hikers and may pitch tents at shelters when a shelter is full. Visitors doing shorter hikes on the AT through the park have time and opportunity to plan for and obtain reservations. Allowing through-hikers to pitch tents at shelters when shelters are full is permitted only during through-hiker season because of the large numbers of through-hikers who come through the Park in a short amount of time. Use of shelters confines resource impacts to a much smaller area than tents, which users tend to scatter around sites. Therefore, we want to fill the shelters first before through-hikers camp around them.”
Question: Why are horses allowed, but not someone’s Brittany spaniel? If it’s because horses are a means of transport, then how can you stop off-road vehicles?
Answer: Equestrians are a traditional user group that predates the creation of the Park. Park planning documents such as our General Management Plan include horse use as a permissible activity. We recognize that horses can have an impact on trails and strive to respond to those impacts through engaging horse groups in leave-no-trace camping principles. Some organized horse groups assist us in maintaining Park trails. ATVs are prohibited off-road in units of the National Park System unless specifically provided for in a Park’s enabling or other legislation.
National Park Service policy generally prohibits pets (including dogs) beyond frontcountry areas. This prohibition is due to long-standing NPS resource protection principals relating to the known effects of domestic pets on wildlife.
Question: If you can not enforce what shelter policies you currently employ, how will you be able to enforce the pending pay-for-use shelter policy? It seems there are too few rangers.
Answer: We agree. Some backcountry users are aware that they are very unlikely to encounter a ranger in the backcountry, so they may take advantage of that and may choose to ignore existing regulations. One of the reasons we have decided to implement a reservation and user fee is to enable us to fund an increased Ranger presence in the backcountry, for reasons stated previously.
Question: Some even suggested that perhaps the Park is actually trying to deter backcountry and through-hikers. How do you respond?
Answer: There is no truth to your suggestion. We are undertaking this to provide better planning and reservation services to backcountry users as well as expanded ranger presence both to maintain compliance with the regulations as well as to reduce natural resource impacts.