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FAQ: Government Shutdown's Effects on the Appalachian Trail (UPDATED 1/23/18)

by Appalachian Trail Conservancy

UPDATE:

The government shutdown ended late on Jan. 22, fully reopening the Appalachian Trail and its federally-managed programs and facilities. All volunteer activities are allowed to proceed as normal.

You can read our statement about the Trail's re-opening here.


Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2018, all land units managed by U.S. federal agencies will be closed but accessible as part of a government shutdown. This includes the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) footpath and the sections of the A.T. corridor that are directly managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

This means that visitors can still access all sections of the A.T., but all facilities and support that is provided or overseen by NPS or USFS will be unavailable. This includes restrooms, visitor centers and other buildings, concessions, information services, and other services. NPS and USFS staff will be kept at a bare minimum, which means that incident and emergency response will be severely impacted and limited in scope.

You can view our official statement about the shutdown here.

Below are answers to several questions we have received regarding the shutdown. We will continue to update this post as more information becomes available.

Am I still allowed to hike on the A.T.?

Yes. While the Trail is technically closed, it will still be “accessible” to visitors. Federally-managed buildings, facilities and utilities, however, will be closed and most services will be discontinued. Emergency response will still be available, but due to NPS and USFS staff being kept to essential personnel, response times and capabilities will be severely impacted. Should you choose to visit the A.T. and/or other National Parks, please use extreme caution. Any entry onto NPS and USFS property during this period of a federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.

Are visitor centers, parking areas, and other facilities affected by the closure?

Visitor centers and facilities on federal lands are closed. Private concessions operated on federal lands are allowed to continue their services in most instances, though this will depend primarily on whether the facilities in which they are located are kept open. Parking areas and roads may be closed or gated.

What areas of the Trail are not affected by the closure?

Large areas of state lands unaffected by the closure include Maine’s Bigelow Preserve and Grafton Notch State Parks, Mt. Greylock State Reservation in Massachusetts, Housatonic State Forest on the A.T. in central Connecticut, Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks in New York, and Michaux State Forest in Pennsylvania. Hikers are encouraged to contact those agencies for more information.

What about emergencies and Trail hazards?

Law enforcement, fire suppression and other essential services continue to be provided despite furloughs of most federal employees. However, emergency response on all A.T. lands is extremely limited during the shutdown and may be unavailable in some areas. Trail volunteers have been told not to perform their customary trail work due to a lapse in federal worker’s compensation and tort protections. Hikers may encounter downed trees, other hazards on roads and trails, and few people to assist in case of emergency.

How are thru-hikers affected?

Hikers of any kind will be able to access the A.T. and will not encounter barricades. However, no visitor services, maintenance or other management activities will be conducted, and emergency and rescue services will be limited. Any entry onto NPS and USFS property during this period of a federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.

New backcountry hiking and camping permits for Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park will not be issued for the duration of the government shutdown. Passes that have already been issued will remain valid for the period of time listed on the permit.

A.T. hiker permits in Baxter State Park will continue to be issued using the guidelines prescribed by the Baxter State Park Authority. More information on these permits can be found at https://baxterstatepark.org/general-info/the-at/.

In the unlikely event that the shutdown lasts well into the year, the ATC will maintain its normal canoe ferry operations at the Kennebec River. When finalized, this schedule will be posted at http://www.matc.org/for-hikers/kennebec-river-ferry/.

Will shelters and privies still be open?

Yes. All shelters and privies will continue to be available for A.T. hikers. However, these structures will not receive maintenance and upkeep during the shutdown.

Will the ATC Visitor Centers in Harpers Ferry, WV and Boiling Springs, PA; and the A.T. Visitor Center in Monson, ME remain open?

Yes. These visitor centers will maintain their current operating schedules.

Will A.T. maintaining volunteers be able to continue their work during the shutdown?

No. All ATC volunteer Trail crews, maintaining clubs and other volunteers are instructed to postpone all maintenance projects on the A.T. until the shutdown has ended. NPS funds that provide medical and liability insurance programs for volunteers, the ATC and various land agencies has been suspended as part of the shutdown. Without these insurance programs in place, an accident exposes A.T. workers, their clubs, and ATC to tort claims and medical costs.

ATC regional offices may be contacted for information regarding closures in their regions. 

  • New England Regional Office: 413.528.8002
  • Mid Atlantic Regional Office: 717.258.5771
  • Central and Southwest Virginia Regional Office: 540.953.3571
  • Tennessee/North Carolina/Georgia Regional Office: 828.254.3708







5 comments

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  1. zilla | Jan 23, 2018
    Hopefully the “kids” can figure out how to maintain a stable budget for the future.   I will be out feb 2-3 hiking :)
  2. Warren Doyle | Jan 22, 2018
    I'm glad the Appalachian Trail is still open to hikers as it should be. This is a better 'common sense' policy then the previous two shutdowns of the AT which unduly negatively impacted this sacred, pilgrimage. Thanks to whoever was responsible for this increased sanity.
    Now, the goal of the ATC is the gradual jettisoning of any NPS involvement (outside of GSNP and SNP) in the trail. The trail existed before the influx of government money to purchase land to protect the trail corridor. Those days are over. The trail should resume its traditional adminstration/operation that it had for over fifty years. To the ATC leadership, that would be a real accomplishment.
  3. Bob | Jan 21, 2018
    Considering most Government shutdowns are short I don't suspect that this will effect many people in the middle of winter other than visitors to the 2 National Parks on the trail. The shelters are open, water will be flowing, Post Offices are still open and the towns near the trail will be open for business.
  4. Appalachian Trail Conservancy | Jan 20, 2018

    Hi Mark,

    Unfortunately, we won't have those dates until Congress has agreed to pass an updated spending budget, short or long term. Should we receive any other information, we will update our post with more details.

  5. Mark | Jan 20, 2018

    Hi.. you mentioned the closures. . But nothing about reopening / back to normal eta dates...

    Thanks

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