Long distance hikers looking to complete their Appalachian Trail journey at its northern terminus on Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park will need one more item in their back—a hiker registration card.
Baxter State Park Authority (baxterstateparkauthority.com) which oversees the park announced a new permit system is now in place for northbound hikers taking final steps on the 2,190-mile long hike between Georgia and Maine.
The permits are free and must be picked up in person. There’s no limit to the number of cards issued in 2016.
According to the BSA, for the past decade the increasing numbers of AT long distance hikers entering the park has been drawing the attention of park management as the park has applied increased resources to administer this group’s unique needs.
“In 1991, the total number of recorded AT long distance hikers in Baxter State Park was 359,” says the BSA on its website. “In 2015, 2,137 AT Long Distance hikers were registered in the Park. Use of the Park by AT long distance hikers increased an average of 8% annually over this period. Processes to limit daily access to Katahdin trails to manage visitor experience in the Park’s wilderness and to protect the Park’s alpine zone have been in place for 30 years for Park visitors from Maine and elsewhere, with the exception of AT long distance hikers.”
The new permit is required for all AT northbound hikers, section hikers (those hiking pieces of the AT over time) and flip flop hikers (covering the whole trail and reversing direction). It is not required of southbound hikers.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (appalachiantrail.org), a non-profit group based in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia which helps manage and protect the AT, will get the word out to hikers.
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy understands that the increasing number of long-distance Appalachian Trail hikers presents a management challenge for Baxter State Park officials,” said executive director Ron Tipton in a statement. “We will continue to work cooperatively with Baxter State Park by informing and educating long-distance hikers about proper hiker behavior.”
Beginning this summer, the ATC will have a seasonal staffer in Monson, about 100 miles from the top of Katahdin and gateway to the challenging 100-Mile Wilderness.
“A presence in Monson demonstrates the ATC’s commitment to a comprehensive and proactive stewardship plan that will further our ability to work with our partners in protecting a high-quality hiking experience,” he said.
Tipton said long-distance hiking on the AT has steadily increased during the past two decades and, in Baxter State Park alone, Appalachian Trail hiker numbers have nearly doubled in the last 10 years.
“Overall, there are an estimated 3 million visitors on some portion of the Appalachian Trail each year,” he said. “The ATC has existed for more than 90 years to preserve and manage the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail, and with a growing interest in this world-famous Trail, the mission of the ATC remains just as relevant and important today.”
To get a card, AT long distance hikers will have to provide their name and trail name.
The card will be dated both when issued and again at Katahdin Stream Campground after finishing climbing Katahdin.
Hikers will be required to show the card to attendants at various entryways into the park. It is also required for long distance AT hikers staying at The Birches facility at Katahdin Stream Campground.
Permits can be acquired at a number of places like park headquarters in Millinocket, the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, from a BSP steward at Abol Bridge and Katahdin Stream Campground.
Park authorities will post the number of permits issued every day on its Facebook page and website. At the end of summer, a list of all AT long distance hikers with a finishing date on their card will be published.
According to the ATC, about 25 percent of hikers attempting the entire trail are able to complete it. The journey typically takes between five and seven months. A popular time for northbound hikers to begin from Springer Mountain in Georgia is between March 1 and April 15.