Trekking the Appalachian Trail looks a lot different today than it did five years ago—and it's not necessarily a good thing. Instead of the sweet solitude of nature and occasional passerby, hikers are coming across graffiti, raging parties, and more litter than ever. According to a write-up on Yahoo, more than 830 people hiked the 2,189-mile trail last year. Back in 1990, only 182 people could say the same. Registrations are also on the rise, from 359 in 1991 to 2,000+ just last year. Many of the trail's regulations are put into place to preserve the trail's ecosystem, but as the number of hikers grows, so does the disregard for the rules.
The endeavor is no weekend trip—to properly experience the trail takes months. This means that the troublemakers are often only a day's walk ahead of the more serious explorers for weeks, leaving behind them a wake of trash. Maine's Baxter State Park—the trail's final summit on to Mount Katahdin—sees the worst of this rule breaking. Because of this, officials are considering taking the area out of the Appalachian Trail completely. On the bright side, Executive Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Ron Tipton reminds us all that it only takes a few bad hikers to put a cloud over the entire experience. Given the incredible increase in activity on the trail, the few misbehaving hikers are becoming more prevalent.
Currently, an official decision regarding Baxter State Park's inclusion in the Appalachian Trail has not been made. With the number of backpackers to continue steadily increasing (especially after this week's cinematic release of "A Walk in the Woods," highlighting Bill Bryson's 1998 jaunt through the trail), we can only hope those few misbehaving hikers start following the rules.
Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.