Two years ago, visitors ransacked Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail


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As a high-altitude bald with 360-degree mountain views along the Appalachian Trail, Max Patch is on many a hiker’s bucket list. Day-trippers once frequented the spot for picnics, football or Frisbee games, and a scenic spot to camp while hiking. But when visitation hit a staggering zenith during Covid-19, the 350-acre peak made headlines for its unruly crowds and growing litter problem.

Hikers have left their mark on the area with whiskey bottles, dog and human waste, social trails, and more. Nine months after a drone photo of the overcrowded, litter-filled area went viral in 2020, the US Forest Service has announced a series of restrictions and prohibitions in the Max Patch area which will remain in place until June 30, 2023. Under this order, hikers cannot camp on Max Patch, make fires, use unauthorized trails, visit more than one hour before the sunrise and over an hour after sunset, and more. Violators of these restrictions could be subject to a fine of $5,000 ($10,000 for organizations) and/or imprisonment for up to 6 months.

But while these restrictions can be burdensome, evidence suggests they have a positive impact on the landscape. Matt Drury, associate director of science and stewardship at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said, “These changes in visitation and our ecological restoration efforts have helped facilitate healing. The visitor experience is now more natural with less waste, noise and erosion.

The past few years have been an era of tremendous change and recovery for Max Patch. Organizations such as the ATC, the Carolina Mountain Club, and the US Forest Service have worked to reduce the impact of camping, monitor erosion, and protect native plants. Still, according to Drury, there is still a lot of work to be done. “Problems with visitor use persist and remnants of past abuse are evident,” he says. “There’s a long way to go, but Max Patch is much better off than he has been in years.”

Locals have used the area for centuries, starting with the area’s Cherokee inhabitants. In the 1800s, farmers cleared the trees that once stood on Max Patch and turned the area into pasture for cattle and sheep. After that, the Forest Service mowed the area and prescribed burns to prevent new growth and maintain the bald 4,629-foot viewpoint for hikers.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Max Patch was called “Mac’s Patch” or “Mack’s Patch”. At that time, these were two common nicknames for people whose name began with the prefix Mc-. (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty Images)

Today, many Asheville residents are responding positively to campground closures. They support ongoing restoration efforts at the beloved regional icon, said Jeffrey Hunter, an Asheville-based senior program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association. This Saturday, September 24, volunteers and public servants celebrate National Public Lands Day with a service project on MaxPatch. Participants will restore the trail from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to Hunter, this event is a great example of the dedication people show to maintaining the area.

“I’m hoping we’ll see a commensurate increase in funding to land management agencies like the Forest Service and the National Park Service for new staff, education and stewardship,” Hunter said. “Our public lands deserve nothing less.

The Max Patch is unlikely to be the harbinger of a wave of close orders elsewhere on the AT. There are local AT management partners (such as an ATC chapter or the Carolina Mountain Club) that monitor visitor use, says Morgan Sommerville, director of visitor use management for ATC, and these types of closures or restrictions depend on the needs of the area and the reality of the situation.

Closures on Max Patch stopped further damage or erosion: We reported in June that the number of fire rings has dropped from 70 to 9, and social trails that once covered 22,000 square feet of the mountain now only cover 9,000. Some hikers also see the Max Patch closures as a reason to seek out less traveled trails in less traveled places, such as those at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Tennessee.

“Less popular trails are no less beautiful or serene,” says Hunter. “Many natural wonders in western North Carolina and beyond deserve more protection and resources. So many in the hiking community understand the direct link between a positive visitor experience and the need to support conservation. We are going in the right direction. »


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