It is time for the annual saber rattling between the folks at Baxter State Park and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy over use of the Park by long distance hikers. Do I have the answers? Probably not. Did I do hours of research on the issue? Absolutely not. I’m just a buffoon with an opinion. What I don’t hear is debate about real alternatives to Mt Katahdin as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
When a girl is gonna break up with you, it’s never a surprise. It’s a no brainer everytime. She doesn’t laugh at your jokes. She doesn’t tolerate you sitting on the couch watching 10 straight hours of football. Baxter State Park is ready to break up with the Appalachian Trail. The latest thruhiker limits released by BSP last month are further indication of that.
In the past few weeks Baxter State Park in Maine has issued permit limits for long distance hikers looking to climb Mt. Katahdin in 2017.
Section hikers: 840
According to BSP, these numbers allows a 15% growth in hikers arriving in the park in 2017. Critics, (including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy), have argued that numbers are arbitrary. Others point out that the numbers are growing at a 23% rate over the past two seasons. Either way, the tension has been building between advocates of the park and those representing the Appalachian Trail and its hikers.
Baxter State Park is a 200,000 acre parcel of land in Maine’s northern wilderness that is home to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Katahdin. The land was donated by former Maine Governor, Percival Baxter and is run by the Baxter State Park Authority. It is comparatively immune to the the public policy relative to Maine’s other state parks. Visitors to the park have risen fairly dramatically over the past 10 years and the Park is trying to find ways of minimizing impact on the wild lands.
In 2015, legendary distance runner Scott Jurek, set the Appalachian Trail thruhiker fastest known time, to much acclaim. His finish was accompanied by a filming crew, corporate sponsors and a champagne toast on Baxter Peak, atop Mt. Katahdin. All of this was in defiance of BSP rules. The Park reacted harshly and issued 3 summons and subsequent fines to Jurek. The press coverage of the legal matter portrayed the administrators of BSP as petty and foolish. Coincidently, Percival Baxter was once cited with behavior much like Jurek’s, following a political rally of populist William Jennings Bryan.
The Jurek incident kicked off a 2 year battle that seems destined for a divorce. Now is the time for the ATC to act to preserve Mt. Katahdin as part of the Appalachian Trail and to ease tensions with Baxter State Park. Here are some possible solutions.
1. Move the northern terminus off Baxter Peak. I would suggest a simple move of the northern terminus to the Canadian Border along the International Appalachian Trail would allow long distance hikers to enjoy the park and Katahdin without inviting the impact of finishing celebrations or visiting families of thruhikers. Katahdin simply becomes another highlight of the trail such as Franconia Ridge or McAfee Knob and not the event is today.
2. Multiple northern end points. Keep Katahdin as it is, but allow hikers to finish the trail at multiple points.
3. Canada via the Long Trail. Allow thruhikers to continue onto the Long Trail at Maine Junction and certify arrival at Journey’s End as a completed thruhike from Georgia to Canada. This would not replace Baxter Peak as the finish of the AT, just add another terminus.
4. Canada via Cohos Trail. The Cohos Trail is a long distance trail in New Hampshire that could easily be linked the Appalachian Trail in White Mountain National Forest. Treated as a 3rd different finish point for northbound hikers.
Actions such as the ones suggested above, could minimize long distance hikers impact on BSP significantly, yet preserve its place on the Appalachian Trail.
The ATC has reacted strongly to the new permit limits, issuing a statement:
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) does not agree with Baxter State Park’s (BSP) new Appalachian Trail Long Distance Hiker Permit System, which limits the number of long distance Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers that can access the northern terminus of the Trail on Katahdin each year.”
Diplomacy has seemingly been the ATC’s tact prior to this statement. Perhaps this is a realization that that path hasn’t been as fruitful as hoped. I wrote the ATC a couple of years ago with these ideas, and never heard back. Perhaps now, with two additional years of discord, they will increase efforts to fix the problem in a more permanent way. Let’s save Katahdin for the Appalachian Trail before it gets taken from us.