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Appalachian Trail Hikers Asked To Leave The Trail Due To COVID-19

Lilly Knoepp
A group of hikers pose for a photo at Outdoor 76 despite the news that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has asked them to stop hiking.

Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail currently attempting to cover its over 2,000 milesare being asked to get off the trail because of COVID-19. 

March is usually when hikers from across the world are coming through Western North Carolina on their trek from Georgia to Maine.  But on Wednesday, they were asked to stop – for now. 

Here’s Jordan Bowman, spokesperson for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). 

 “It’s that real risk of someone getting on the trail and spreading it to other hikers or going into towns and spreading it to these rural vulnerable communities,” says Bowman. 

Bowman says this applies to people hiking the whole trail as well as those just doing a portion - known as section hikers. He says that right now there are over 1,000 people registered on the trail. ATC is not only trying to limit the spread of the disease because of the communal nature of hiking. Bowman says they are also thinking about how they would be able to get to people on the trail if they were to get sick.  

The news was released across media platforms frequented by hikers but many might not find out about the news until they come into towns to resupply. 

Cory McCall is co-owner of outfitter Outdoor 76 in downtown Franklin -  a city that is an official Appalachian Trail Community.  It’s near mile 110 on the trail, hikers oftenstop there for their first resupply.

“We have had a number of hikers in this morning but Main Street does seem to be more quiet,”says McCall. 

Outdoor 76 is still operational - it has had to close its onsite taproom as part of the statewide ban on gatherings at restaurants and bars. The store has also announced a delivery program where hikers can call ahead to order supplies and pay over the phone then pick them up at mile 70 (Dicks Creek Gap) or 110 (Winding Stair Gap).

“We feel like we have a responsibility to the hikers and our staff - as long as we can afford to have them here,” says McCall.

McCall explains that many hikers who are on the AT right now have been planning this trip for years - and they might not have anywhere to go if they don’t continue to hike on. He says most of the hikers he has talked to have no intention of postponing their trips.

McCall then passes off his phone to a hiker in the store.

“Before I hand it over to him, I’m going to wipe down my phone so just bear with me,” says McCall, while spraying Lysol. 

Berni Ruoff is from Germany. He just started the trail 4 days ago in Georgia. 

Credit Cory McCall
Berni Ruoff and Cory McCall take a picture at Outdoor 76 - while practicing social distancing.

“I just came over to the states right before they closed air travel from Europe. So I’m probably one of the last germans who came in,” says Ruoff. 

He’s 37. He quit his job as an app designer to travel for a year. First he hiked in New Zealand and now he is hiking his dream trail - the AT. 

“It’s like a lifelong dream to walk here on the trail,”says Ruoff, who plans to hike the trail in 90 days. He says he goes about 25 miles per day. 

“The only thing I’m worried about is that the infrastructure will shutdown so much that I won’t be able to continue but until that point I just won’t worry too much about it and just keep going,” says Ruoff. 

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will track businesses and hostels that are closing along the trail. This list will be available by the end of the week. Hikers with questions or who need help can reach out to the ATC via email at info@appalachiantrai.org or by phone at 304-535-6331. 

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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