It seems last month was so long ago. Back then we were mostly isolated, our trail was “closed” and there were few places to hike. Now stores and many restaurants are open and masks and social distancing are seeming normal. Our trail is open, except for structures. Things kind of seem normal.
I’m reminded of two sayings “The times, they are a changing” and “The more things change the more they stay the same.” With a whirlwind of changes we are experiencing now, hopefully many of them will result in a distinct improvement.
It surprised me to see the Chattahoochee National Forest (C-ONF) open in late May, my money was on early June. The other National Forests into Virginia were closed even tighter than the C-ONF are opening. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA) and National Park Service (NPS are slowly opening their areas. I guess with Georgia opening before other states this was natural. I am sure there are many long distance hikers headed to and from Maine.
In mid-May the Forest Service asked us to inventory blowdowns. A number of members went out, in small numbers, to survey their sections and districts. Fortunately, there were not too many and most of them could be cleared with a razor saw. By now most of the trial has been cleared. Hats off to our sawyers led by Mike Cordisco.
After many conversations with members and rangers from the Forest Service, I issued an announcement curtailing activities for the club. I fully expect this to last through the calendar year and maybe into next year. Depending on whether or not there is a “second wave”, next year’s thru hiker season could also be affected. At this point I am thinking about holding the annual business meeting and holiday party on Zoom.
The biggest decision was to curtail our third Saturday work trips. Considering the age demographic of our group I felt it would be too much to try to hold a group outing and maintain any kind of distancing. Section maintainers are encouraged to go out and maintain their sections. They are also encouraged to go in groups of less than three. I think this makes it more fun and creates a safer environment.
It should be easier to maintain the required distance in these groups. If they meet at the trail head and are conscious about sharing tools and space, work should be safely accomplished. When encountering hikers at work sites we should be able to get off the trail up to 8 feet, and wear a mask.
Unfortunately, most of the people we encounter do not have a mask or maintain a distance. We as members of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club need to set an example. Reminders to wear a mask and step away are becoming normal and useful.
The Forest Service has issued a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) for working during the Coronavirus pandemic, in addition to relevant JHAs. It remains important to conduct “Tailgate Safety Briefings” even when there are only two or three of us. We need the constant reminder to be safe in addition to other items in the briefing. I took a five day course from Morgan Sommerville with a crew of six. Each day Morgan delivered the same message to make sure there was no forgetting, and we would know how to respond in an emergency.
As many of you are aware, the structures remain closed. This includes tables, shelters and privies. I expect the impact of this will increase through the summer resulting in a mess. Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the Forest Service are working on developing guidelines for things like servicing privies. It could mean full haz-mat suits, I do not know.
Trail Director Tom Lamb has decided to prorate the number of work trips to be eligible for T-shirts. A final determination will be made later. For those without a section wanting to work, please contact a District Leader or Tom to get partnered with a maintainer. This is a great opportunity to get a lot of work done on our trail.
Unfortunately, all hikes have also been curtailed. Knowing how much work by the Activities Committee goes into planning these events, it was especially hard to make this decision. Hopefully many members who frequent these hikes have found an alternative. Interestingly, the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club is resuming their hikes in July.
At this point there is still much more to open. The staff of ATC is still working from home and I expect APPA and other National Park Service (NPS) properties have limited access at best. The NPS is more conservative because their mission is to “preserve and protect”, as opposed to the USNF which is more commercial oriented.
Membership Director Rick Dicks is still processing new members. Sometimes allowing for a virtual experience and orientation. He has started a program where up to two prospective members meet with a section maintainer for a work trip. This helps get people through the process. Although, we could face a problem if this “distancing” goes on well into next year.
Your board continues to monitor the situation on a regular basis. Of utmost importance is ensuring the safety and well-being of our members. Considering the risk factors for many of our members we will approach things conservatively.
While I look forward to seeing you on the trail real soon, I plan to hold another Town Hall/Happy Hour soon. In the meantime, be safe and stay healthy.