Appalachian Trail use breaks records in 2015

out athikersThe number of Appalachian Trail hikers passing through the trail’s “psychological midpoint” in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, hit an all-time high this year.

As of Dec. 1, 385 northbound hikers had come through, a 9 percent increase over last year, with the number of southbound hikers increasing 14 percent to total 192.

The number of people choosing to thru-hike the A.T. using an alternative route shot up 139 percent from last year, with 291 people passing through Harpers Ferry who were thru-hikers, but not of the traditional Georgia-to-Maine variety.

Release of the movies A Walk in the Woods (2015) and Wild (2014), both of which depict hiking experiences on long-distance trails, are thought to be at least partially responsible for the increase. Since the release of “A Walk in the Woods” on Sept. 2, the number of visitors to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s visitor center at Harpers Ferry has increased more than 50 percent.

The movie, which chronicled the adventures of a pair of ill-prepared older men attempting to hike the A.T., has sparked interest in the trail among a broad range of people, inspiring new audiences to learn about and explore this national treasure.

“These numbers reveal the importance of a proactive stewardship plan that will address the impact of growing numbers of hikers on the Appalachian Trail,” said Ron Tipton, the ATC’s executive director. “With the help of our partners, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy plans to meet the challenge of ensuring all hikers are able to have a high quality hiking experience.”

The ATC has developed a plan to protect the A.T. hiking experience, focusing on hike planning and registration; visitor use analysis; creating new campsites and restoring existing ones; and increasing education and outreach. The organization is seeking $1.3 million in funding to implement the plan.

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