Trails, Permits, Commercial Use, Personal Achievement, and Celebration

Scott Jerek recently found himself amidst a trail controversy of sorts, a “trailism” to some, or maybe a public lands controversy: Reflections on the Appalachian Trail

Outside Magazine’s Grayson Schaffer, and a cadre of commenters had thoughtful and heartfelt responses to the event (before Jerek’s account above).

Backpacker Magazine also reported on the incident and the general air around Katadin.

I will say that Jurek’s feat was fantastic, and was worthy of celebration, as I’m sure most hikers do after covering 2200 miles on foot. It certainly is a noteworthy personal achievement, physically and mentally, or perhaps its ‘crazy’ depending on who you ask. Scott did it in a record-breaking 46 days (+/- 50 miles a day, for 40 days straight)! He probably could have  finished faster, but did stop to smell the roses on several occasions, and to make human connections as well. Granted, he had full support, I’m guessing a healthy dose of “trail magic,” and plenty of cheerleaders. Three cheers from me to you, my fellow vegan. My suspicion is that his record will be beat, but I’m guessing it won’t be far from the bar currently set by both men and women.

Just how we manage traffic on and to wild places can be a delicate matter given habitats, native inhabitants, and the volume of visiting homo sapiens we could call “outsiders” to natural spaces. How to, or if we should, put fingers in the access dike via permits, and parking lot proximity is probably best answered by the agencies and professionals with information on the livelihoods of local plants and animals we might disturb. Just how “canned” we make these experiences is especially important to me because trails often create a means to recreation, escape/solitude, and even the ‘invasion’ of some spaces.

The earth, and much to my relief from what I’ve seen, much of America, has vast expanses of “nothing.” A “nothing” we call “natural” or wild. Granted, a lot of it is divvied up in private holdings from farms to lands scarred by industry and livestock, to lands held in absentia, some obtained from the inheritance of homesteaders and the luck of the draw long ago, and of course some special places are public holdings…in total the holdings affect the price and costs, not to mention access, monetary and other.

I suppose Jurek’s supposed “commercial” endeavor could be investigated to see if it was indeed an ‘economic’ gain or loss for him or his brand, if that’s what people mean by “commercial.” If so, then what? Are public spaces to be a part of a free market, freed market, or one controlled by a gatekeeper that collects taxes in addition to use fees or tolls to what can amount to a tragedy of the commons in some spaces?  No answers here, just questions, and a wish to help manage a manufactured tragedy (Ostrom style)?

In spite of gates and fences, and the vast amount of “emptiness,” or human absence, it is indeed hard to go too far from any signs of human presence (or tragedy) these days to something truly “remote.

Good luck getting away, with or without permits, and of course “leaving no trace,” borders be damned.


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