The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and 29 of the 31 Appalachian Trail maintaining clubs have requested the federal government close the trail until April 30 to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In a letter delivered Wednesday, the clubs requested “the official closure of the 2,193-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) due to the growing risk of visitors spreading COVID-19 among other hikers, nearby communities and beyond,” according to a news release from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
The trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, spans 14 states and passes through 88 counties, including Warren and Clarke counties.
The ATC delivered the formal letter to the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the deputy director of the National Park Service (NPS) and the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, recommending the trail's closure through April, “with intermittent convenings of the cooperative managers of the Trail to determine whether it is safe to reopen,” the release states.
The request came after the ATC instructed all staff, volunteers and visitors to stay off the trail, and the NPS office closed all shelters and privies it manages along the trail.
The ATC coordinated the planning and construction of the trail and is responsible for managing and protecting it, the release states. The clubs of volunteers built the trail and are responsible for the day-to-day management and maintenance. Trail administration statutorily belongs to the Secretary of the Interior.
“The unprecedented request from the ATC and clubs comes on the heels of a surge in visitor use despite multiple social-distancing guidance issued by state and local governments,” the release states.
“Crowding at iconic and well-known A.T. locations — such as Blood Mountain in Georgia., McAfee Knob in Virginia, and Annapolis Rocks in Maryland — became unsafe as many believed they could avoid COVID-19 by journeying to public lands,” the release states.
The letter explained that the threat to government and trail maintenance employees, other visitors and residents of gateway communities along the trail was heightened by the trail remaining officially open.
"Since its creation in 1925, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has always promoted the benefits of experiencing nature and hiking, both physically and mentally," Sandra Marra, president and CEO of the ATC, states in the release. "However, the past few weeks have shown that the A.T. is no longer a place where effective social distancing can take place, and that drastic action must be taken to help limit the spread of this highly contagious virus both on and off the Trail."
Several National Park Service units the trail passes through have already closed, the release states.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed all facilities and hiking trails, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area have closed all buildings to the public, the release states.
Shenandoah National Park is closed to camping and is seeking approval to close completely, the release states.
Though on Friday afternoon a notice for the Smoky Mountains at the National Park Service website said that except the Foothills Parkway and Spur the park will remain closed until further notice (likely through April 30) the page at nps.gov/shen/index.htm for Shenandoah National Park still said the park is open.
Six of eight national forests along the trail have closed their connecting trails to the A.T., effectively removing access.
For more information, visit appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.