Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Despite a decrease in typical annual community outreach to Appalachian Trail hikers, due to the ongoing pandemic, their numbers have been significant in Franklin as they come off the trail at Winding Stair to rest and restock before continuing on toward Tennessee. And Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC), as a group and as individual members, has provided hikers encouragement and refreshments at different times throughout April.
“Compared to the past [pre-COVID-19], the club has had a pretty quiet hiker season due to not having our normal Chow Down and Easter on the Trail,” said Katharine Brown, current NHC president, “but lots of members did their own trail magic at Rock Gap in coordination with the AT Community Council, and the ‘club’s day’ at the Gap was beautiful and we counted 40 hikers that received swag and food goodies.”
One noticeable difference this year in AT demographics, due to the pandemic, is that hikers are domestic, pointed out Deborah Gedling, Franklin AT Community Council representative and secretary of NHC.
“It seems that there are as many as there always are – and the number of hikers who have registered their hikes with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy bears that out – but there are virtually no people from countries other than the U.S. due to various COVID restrictions.”
Because most thru-hikers enter the AT at Springer Mountain in Georgia in early spring in an attempt to hike the 2,190 miles to Katahdin in Maine by fall, activity is often high in Franklin due to the town being a close-by-the-trail way station. Approximately 30 regular NHC volunteers maintain 58.6 miles of the AT from Bly Gap at the Georgia/North Carolina border to the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the Nantahala River at Wesser, N.C.
Said Brown regarding recent activity, “Our Hike Ambassadors went on 49 patrols and counted 885 hiker interactions. Ambassador hikes are specific to our ‘bubble’ that come through Franklin over a period of a month and a half. We also visited the First Baptist Church during the pancake breakfast and donated $200 to their efforts to feed and support hikers.”
In June, a new slate of officers will be presented to the NHC board and in July the membership will vote and this summer the new membership be announced. To learn more about NHC, visit https://www.nantahalahikingclub.org.