On the trail again – Hiking activity on the AT still going on

Hikers coming into town often stop by the Franklin sign in front of Town Hall for a selfie marking their visit to Macon County. Photo by Vickie Carpenter

Deena C. Bouknight

Contributing Writer

Although the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) “continues to advise long-distance hikers to postpone hikes until 2022 or when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has deemed the pandemic under control, and/or a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment is widely available and distributed,” many thru- and section hikers are already on the trail and plan in the next few months to stop in Franklin for supplies and respite. 

In past pre-COVID-19 years, the Town of Franklin has experienced thousands of Appalachian Trail (AT) hikers stopping, shopping, and resting before heading back to the Winding Stair pass to continue their journey. Most hikers start at the AT trailhead at Springer Mountain, Ga., but some come from the North, having started their hike at Mount Katahdin, Maine. Numbers are expected to be fewer due to the ATC’s January pronouncement that it will continue to not recognize thru-hikers with an AT trail hangtag until the pandemic is declared “under control.” 

However, Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC) and other entities in Franklin have made plans to welcome the hikers. According to NHC president Katharine Brown, the annual Easter On The Trail event has been a highlight for club members to be “trail angels” as well as to share camaraderie with one another during the preparation of items to be handed out to hikers over the Easter holiday weekend.

“COVID-19 continues to impact the manner in which we are able to continue providing our treasured events and this spring is no exception, so the event will be modified as follows to take place from Good Friday on April 2 until April 10 (Easter week), at which time NHC members are encouraged to go out on the AT at any time and provide trail magic during a hike or set up a tailgate from the back of your vehicle at major AT crossings.” 

Trail magic can be anything to encourage and sustain hikers – a paper bag filled with fruit, nuts, jerky, baked goods, etc., for example. 

Additionally, The First Baptist Church in Franklin has decided to hold its annual hikers’ breakfast. NHC annually makes a financial contribution to this event, and the organization will present a check for $200 on April 10 to help cover the cost of food. The church will be serving hikers daily from March 15-April 15 from 7:15-8 a.m. The plan is to spread out in the fellowship hall and limit seating at the tables.  

“Some of our members are volunteering to shuttle hikers to and from the trail to Franklin,” said Brown. “Macon County Transit will also be offering shuttle service.”

Yet, because COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, “local businesses are not able to put on the types of events that we’ve all become accustomed to this year but there could be last minute changes depending on whether or not significant changes take place in terms of [COVID-19] restrictions, such as those limiting capacity,” explained Deborah Gedling, Franklin AT Community Council representative and secretary of NHC. “As of now, however, no such events are planned.”

Franklin AT Community Council, however, is working out to-be-announced details and plans to make hikers feel welcome.