Fussing: Appalachian Trail Conservancy & Baxter State Park

Published Jul 30, 2015

Scott Jurek Celebrating Atop Katahdin ~ Photo from Runners World

Scott Jurek Celebrating Atop Katahdin ~ Photo from Runners World

Here in the South, we use the word "fussing" for all types of non-lethal arguments, disputes and/or controversies.

Fussing certainly applies to the ... difference of perspectives ... between the leaders of Baxter State Park and the leaders of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as to whether their goals are compatible.

Choose One:

A) Scott Jurek's finish atop Baxter Peak in Baxter State Park -- the highest mountain in Maine -- was a fitting place to celebrate his unique physical feat of running the length of the Appalachian Trail faster than any other hiker, walker or runner. Scott's triumph of man vs. Trail was perfected by running up "Mount Katahdin." Friends, supporters and strangers met him there to commemorate his triumphant gallop to glory.

B) Scott Jurek's finish atop Baxter Peak in Baxter State Park -- the highest mountain in Maine -- was not a fitting place to celebrate his unique physical feat of running the length of the Appalachian Trail faster than any other hiker, walker or runner. Scott's irreverent festivities with friends, supporters and strangers were held at a sacred spot devoted to remaining a wilderness forever. He tarnished his victory, albeit a victory that deserves accolades and praise ... that should have been celebrated somewhere else.

Merging Paths & Priorities

There's a four-lane divided highway near my home that leads to an interstate junction. Thousands of motorists zip along night and day to or from the freeway. All is well.

Unless you continue on the four-lane divided highway another half-mile past the freeway. That's where you hit the stoplight at The Merge of Death intersection. Thousands of motorists zip along night and day on two perky and zippy southbound lanes that all of a dang sudden are squeezed into one curvy little lane in an industrial zone. Someone should erect one of those international picture/signs that bears the image of a demolition derby or cars banging each other off the road.

That, my friends, is also a picture of the dispute between our pals at Baxter State Park (BSP) and our pals at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), in my humble opinion. Not that it's violent or dangerous, merely that it's hard to merge different paths into one.

In This Corner ... the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Rhea Patrick, Betsy Trope, Morgan Sommerville (Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and a handsome stranger at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Rhea Patrick, Betsy Trope, Morgan Sommerville (Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and a handsome stranger at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy -- I hate to use the word "controls" -- manages the Trail in the manner that other National Parks are governed and protected.

The ATC organizes volunteer labor in a way that other organizations could not attain in their wildest dreams.

The ATC is wonderful. Everyone who works with or for them wears a white hat and is kind to kitties and puppies.

The ATC would like everyone everywhere to hike the Appalachian Trail and enjoy its beauty and the rustic rejuvenation it provides to all who hike its path.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and its crews love the AT.

In This Corner ... Baxter State Park

Those who manage Baxter State Park -- I hate to use the word "control" -- Protect the Wilderness with dedication and purpose that other organizations cannot fathom.

Baxter State Park Crew Members at the 2013 Trail's End Festival in Millinocket, Maine ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Baxter State Park Crew Members at the 2013 Trail's End Festival in Millinocket, Maine ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Everyone who works with or for BSP wears a white hat and is kind to kitties and puppies. They all walk around singing "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" as they pamper their beloved park.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the four-lane divided highway for hikers that merges into the tiny dirt path the Appalachian Trail becomes at Baxter State Park.

To regulate traffic and Protect the Wilderness, BSP limits the size of groups of hikers hoping to scale Katahdin to twelve or less. BSP Protects the Wilderness by asking groups of hikers to space themselves a mile apart. To Protect the Wilderness, BSP does not allow anyone to make movies within 500 feet of Baxter Peak. To Protect the Wilderness, Baxter State Park sets and enforces rules that will help them (ready?) Protect the Wilderness.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

A portal to the Appalachian Trail ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

A portal to the Appalachian Trail ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

There's an odd perception about hiking the Appalachian Trail held by parents, grandparents and ditched significant others. They feel "their" hiker is about to enter The Forest only to emerge (or not emerge) many months later in Maine or Georgia. The unknown middle of the Trail in their minds can best be described by the words, "Thar be dragons!"

In reality, hikers hike from town to town, hostel to hostel, party to party and celebration to celebration. What once was a death-defying attempt to survive in the back country is more like a bar crawl through the woods by yoots in search of adventure, their own mysterious and/or elusive identity and marijuana.

Hikers, once known by their occupations,

  • I am an accountant.
  • I am a programmer.
  • I am a nurse.
  • I am an artist.
  • I live in my mother's basement & play video games all day.

are soon identified by barbaric Trail Names:

  • I am Dances With Mice.
  • I am Killer.
  • I am NoroVirus.
  • I am Snow White.
  • I am On the Run from the Law.
  • I am Stinky.

These Lost Children of the Wilds have fewer rules than the denizens in The Lord of the Flies. They believe they are explorers, discoverers; yes, Vasco da Gamas of the sylvan lane.

We endorse and fuel those delusions because we want to ditch our lives and head to the Trail with them, but we lack something they have in abundance.

Not In My Back Yard

Mt. Katahdin is a distant dream.  ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Mt. Katahdin is a distant dream. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

I do not know how the ATC is going to merge herds of hikers who have their own way all day every day ... into the Narrow Paths of Rules & Regulations in Baxter State Park.

Must ATC can draw a broad red line on a map of the Appalachian Trail at edge of the 100-Mile-Wilderness with a note that says, "The Fun Stops Here" or perhaps "Rules Begin Here"?

You can bet your iPhone that Baxter State Park has no plans to diminish its passion to Protect the Wilderness.

You want to publish photographs worldwide of yourself breaking their rules? They're not going to shoot you. They will call you out for it and give you a ticket. Because they are the boss of those who enter their wilderness. They do not want anyone to disrespect what they spend their lives protecting.

Baxter State Park

Baxter State Park

If you/we don't like BSP's rules & regs, I can almost hear them say, "Fine. Take your Appalachian Trail and put it somewhere else. We don't need it. You're more trouble than you're worth. Our goal is to Protect the Wilderness. Support that goal and you're welcome at BSP. If not, find someplace else to party."

The ATC has the more difficult position, it seems to me.

Their goal is to promote use of the Trail, from Maine to Georgia. They want more towns to host more celebrations of America's Trail. They want you and your grandmother to nibble at some small portion ... or hike all of it in one big gulp.

Until the Appalachian Trail merges at Baxter State Park. That's where hikers enter a separate culture ... a different nation ... a sanctuary ... where hikers no longer reign. Where the purpose has nothing to do with your or our personal goals or victories ... where the goal is to Protect the Wilderness ... from all those who would violate the peace therein.

Appalachian Trail Hikers in Rangeley, Maine ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Appalachian Trail Hikers in Rangeley, Maine ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Even if they are Appalachian Trail hikers.

Sorry. The ATC and BSP cannot solve this puzzle. That's totally up to hikers. If hikers will choose to submit themselves to the goals, rules and ways of Baxter State Park, this fuss will pass.

If hikers revolt again the Prime Directive of Baxter State Park -- to Protect the Wilderness -- we will be treated as an invasive species that must be removed from the park.

Too bad Micheal Rennie or Keanu Reeves can't contrive a Day the Earth Stood Still trick that would change the hearts and minds of those who enter Baxter State Park. That we might live in peace and harmony with one another.

If not, the fussing is going to get ugly and Gort will move the Trail to a different mountain.

~~

Please click on the links below for the backstory.

Click Here for Baxter State Park's Opening Volley

Excerpts from Ultramarathoning in Baxter Park - another perspective.

  • Our Facebook page is a great place to celebrate the nature of Baxter State Park. On occasion, we need to use this platform for serious discussion.
  • Scott Jurek's recent completion of the Appalachian Trail in the shortest time on record is a remarkable physical accomplishment. With all due respect to Mr. Jurek's ability, Baxter State Park was not the appropriate place for such an event.
  • When Scott arrived at Baxter Park to complete his run at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he brought all of this to Baxter Peak, in Maine's largest wilderness.
  • Mr. Jurek and the corporate sponsors were careful not to mention in the media coverage that one of the unfortunate outcomes of the celebration party at Baxter Peak at the completion of the event were the three summons issued to Mr. Jurek by a Baxter Park Ranger for the drinking of alcoholic beverages in public places (BSP Rule 7 and Maine State General Law), for littering (BSP Rule 4.5) and for hiking with an oversize group (BSP Rule 2.2). In addition, media personnel were issued a summons for violation of a commercial media permit which prohibited filming within 500' of Baxter Peak. Not much to be proud of there.
  • An additional discouraging observation. The Appalachian Trail provided the challenge and backdrop for this event and consequently, provided the conduit for this event to land in Baxter Park. The profile of the AT is large enough to attract the corporate sponsorship necessary to support and carry such an event. The AT is apparently comfortable with the fit of this type of event in its mission. The formal federal designation and authority of the Appalachian Trial does not extend into Baxter State Park. The AT within the Park is hosted at the consideration of the Baxter State Park Authority. The Authority is currently considering the increasing pressures, impacts and conflicts that the Appalachian Trail brings to the Park and if a continued relationship is in the best interests of Baxter State Park.
  • These "corporate events" have no place in the Park and are incongruous with the Park's mission of resource protection, the appreciation of nature and the respect of the experience of others in the Park. We hope for the support of the AT and BSP communities to help us steer these events to more appropriate venues in the future.

Click Here for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Response

Excerpts from Appalachian Trail Policy and Baxter State Park Concerns

  • The Appalachian Trail Conservancy ... has been working with Baxter State Park to address and to find solutions to the growing concerns the park has had with A.T. users. A long-planned meeting is being held in Millinocket next week and will include representatives from the ATC's New England region, ATC HQ, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, Friends of Baxter State Park. ALDHA (the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association). Other stakeholders have also been invited.
  • The timing of this face-to-face meeting is fortuitous, as more dialog is certainly needed, as well as more education of Trail users, especially thru-hikers reaching Baxter State Park. However, the statement that "the A.T. is apparently comfortable with the fit of this type of event in its mission," is not accurate.
  • Competitive events, commercial use, fundraising, and large-group use are discouraged by the ATC, and with our support are often against the regulations of local agencies along the A.T. ... Unfortunately, enforcement of regulations and policies in many areas outside of Baxter State Parks is challenging as there are several hundred unrestricted access points.
  • A trailwide A.T. policy was developed and passed earlier this year by the ATC that formalizes our position on these topics, but policy takes time to share and implement. We share the same concerns for resource protection and safeguarding the user experience that Baxter does.
  • The ATC already has ... been developing materials and plans to better educating hikers about Baxter policies and regulations. We look forward to meeting with Baxter State Park next week so together we can safeguard the Appalachian Trail and Katahdin and honor their intended uses.

What say ye, hikers?


Tags: Events, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail, Hiking, News, Appalachian Trail Clubs, Maine Appalachian Trail Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, Robert Sutherland Travel Writer, Conservation, and Hikers

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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Comments
Granna-Pops Salmon on Jul 21, 2015
I respectfully disagree with the premise of your argument, Robert. The accounts of the eye witnesses to, not only Scott's 46 day epic journey, but also to the celebration at the end of that amazing feat of human endurance, does not even remotely resemble yours and BSP's notions of a loud, wild, raucous, drunken, (and oxymoronically) light speed moving, ongoing debauch which climaxed on the peak at the end. Can't you see that the fact that you want to lump vegan eating, nature loving Scott Jurek and what he achieved in with your problems with through hikers as intrinsically unfair?

You make a lot of derogatory generalizations about through hikers which may be true or not. I honestly don't know, but assuming it's true, I find it sad and I certainly sympathize with your consternation. (I live out in the Pacific Northwest and have not been on any part of the AP in decades). On the other hand, I am a fan of Jurek, the great outdoors and of trail running, and I believe it is unjust and defamatory for you and BSP to utilize Scott and his accomplishment as a straw man for your real bugaboos.

Is it really the whole concept of respectful of nature and considerate of others endurance trail running and fast hiking that you really disapprove of? If so then that's a fair handle to hang on Scott. If that's what you really resent, then be honest about it and let's have that debate.

Personally, I love being quiet and still in a beautiful wilderness setting, and I love running and fast hiking trails for miles. I both cases, although in different ways, I feel intensely connected to nature and to my natural roots as a human creature. Only in the latter case, I also get to feel fit and healthy. There's room for both in our nation's wilds and parks, as long as we start by respecting each other rather than tarring each other unfairly.
Did You Notice on Jul 22, 2015
Thru-hiking is no more then a 5 month vacation consisting of three day backpacking trips between all-you-can-eat buffets and bars. You did it? Big f'ing whoop. Jurek's stunt? He had people carrying his toilet paper, people waiting at fords with dry socks and shoes, and monetary incentives to set the record. End the AT at Abol Bridge.
Appalachian Swede on Jul 25, 2015
I wouldn't call it a vacation. I am an AT section hiker who stays out three or four days at a time and in all honesty the thru-hikers have earned my respect. It takes not only physical stamina, but mental stamina to endure the up and down grind that is the AT day after day. For me the reward is the scenery. As for the buffets and bars? I figure they earned it.
Paul Miles on Jul 30, 2015
wow, he still had to do all the miles. How far did you run today?
Reginald Crump on Jul 24, 2015
isn't the smoky mt section charging tru hikers to overnight in their section? this is more offensive to me. i know people like you southerners right here in new york. its called fussing when you step on someone elses toes and they complain but it's a violation of your civil rights if someone does it to you.
Appalachian Swede on Jul 25, 2015
I believe the ATC and the BSP will kiss and make up. If they don't, oh well! It won't be the first time an Appalachian Trail terminus has been moved off a mountain.
Charlton Vaughan on Jul 26, 2015
Why is the question about Baxter State Park? I know about the specific issue but Baxter State Park is not the only Park, Wilderness Area, or Protected Area that the AT enters or exits. The other parks etc also have rules that need or are required to be adhered to. There is a reason why those rules are in place and I have no problem doing so. I grew up in those mountains and I, for one, understand the need for conservation efforts. For myself, it's not a question that is difficult to understand. The AT Conservancy can promote the AT as well as promote adherance to rules and regs.
elderberry on Jul 28, 2015
I can understand that they don't want it to turn into a giant mess like Mt. Everest.