America Can Build New Hiking Trails if the Appalachian Trail Becomes ‘Too Crowded’
I have recently begun to hear thoughts and sentiments to this effect, now that the long-awaited film version of Bill Bryson’s bestselling Appalachian Trail (AT) book, A Walk in the Woods is really being filmed. To be sure, this is a valid concern. After all, when Bryson’s book was released in 1998, the so-called ‘Bryson effect’ took place, in which the number of thru-hikers (and section hikers) ballooned. The trail saw greater activity and the shelters were more full. Since then more hostels, outfitters, and even shelters have been featured along the way. The number of Americans who step foot on the AT is now said to number 3,000,000 annually. And there is every reason to think a popular Hollywood film will create another bubble in activity.
My unequivocal attitude is that this is nothing but to the good. Just consider that we live in a country with a nationwide obesity rate of 30%. Can you think of anything better for our denizens than getting out on this national scenic trail which runs 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine.
Recently I was returning from the annual Trail Days Festival in Damascus with a friend and we were rhapsodizing about the southern Appalachians through which we drove. My friend was in England and gasping at the yawning landscapes which lay before us. “Golly, you can build all the trails you want here,” he said. Bingo. Yes we can. And consider how little wilderness disturbance is entailed with building a hiking trail. The AT on average is two feet wide.
So let me say it again–the more people on the Appalachian Trail, the better. Those who prefer extreme solitude will be able to find it on America’s virtually infinite hiking trails and footpaths, as well as the ones that we can construct.
Bill Walker is the author of several popular hiking books including Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.