Wednesday, October 29, 2014

End of Season Controversy

Between June 9th and October,I held the coveted position of Gulf Hagas Ridgerunner. I came to love the place like my own back yard, and could often tell if something was wrong before I saw it. Smoke, human feces and overly sweet perfumes alerted me to situations that required Leave No Trace education on the double. I packed out orange peels, beer cans, abandoned gear, sunglasses, socks and scraps of candy wrappers. One of the best compliments I received often: its pristine. 

Billings Fall, above, is just one of  dozens of outstanding views seen from the Rim Trail on the Gulf Hagas Loop. Every Friday, I hiked this loop, picking up micro trash, talking to day hikers, inspecting the location for blowsdowns and other concerns, including illegal campfires and camp sites.

The loops is part of the Appalachain Trail Corridor and protected by federal law. No camping is allowed two miles north after crossing the West Pleasant river. The camp sites just south of the crossing are actually very flat and heavily used, although according to an AT contact, they sit too close to the water to be approved.

At the End of Season debriefing, I recommended a designated campsite be established in this treasured area, just 30 miles into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Apparently, according to the e-mails I'm receiving from the powers that be, this is deemed both nearly impossible to achieve and a great insult to the 'resource.'

My answer is based on over four months residency in this location.
Keep in mind, this "wilderness" is logged regularly. Heavy logging trucks laden with trees rumble down the Katahdin Ironworks road. 
The Falls are considered Class 5 river. Kayaks shoot these falls when the river is up, often running the series twice if the water is high enough. 
Hunting is allowed. I've even had a guy cross the river carrying a shotgun. After looking up the regulations, I found that one may hunt 300 feet from the trail. It wasn't unusual to hear gunfire this fall as grouse came into season.
Fishermen wade the streams, camping in paid sites along the river. Or not. The locals know all the places a ridge runner is unlikely to appear and request fires be extinguished. 
Keep in mind, a much used parking lot sits .2 miles from the crossing, and tons of day hikers trample down that access trail, cross the river and proceed to hike the Loop. I'm so in favor of public exposure, I try to encourage all LNT principles with a smile and good story. If people love something, they will protect and support it.

The place is heavily used by many groups. The Hundred Mile Wilderness sees youth groups taking on the challenge, some ill equipped, often under-trained and over-loaded for the journey ahead.
Now, the problem.

According to some, the Gulf is so precious, Backpackers should not be allowed to camp near the crossing. But, they do, and they will, and no matter how close the ridge-runner's camp, or how late in the evening, or early in the morning, she can't catch everyone breaking the rules.

And, what if she does? Her power lies in persuasion. As a thru hiker, she knows that anyone arriving there to camp at dusk, either from the north or south, has likely traversed 4 mountains. If its raining, if they fell, if their knees are killing them, if its cold, if they are meeting a resupply at the Katahdin Ironworks road or if the river is way up, they may just chose to stealth camp regardless. In other words, very likely they are going to march way back out of site and pitch camp along the river, just before dark and set up anyways.
And, successfully breaking the rules, they'll text the next one coming up the trail of the great site they enjoyed.

That happens time and again.
That's reality. It flies in the face of theory and philosophy. You can rant all day long that  backpackers should plan better all you want, but that won't change a thing.
If we want to affect reality, we have to be there. 
A designated campsite, just as you find in the delicate eco- system of Horns Pond and Sugarloaf Mountain, both of which are now managed by a caretaker, could eliminate all the 'bootleg' campsites that will be scratched out at the Gulf Hagas Crossing, regardless
A managed site insures privies are used, sites don't expand, people are registered, illegal campfires aren't built.

I care about the Gulf so much, I'm making my appeal to the forces that be, publicly.


  1. I'm with you, Brawny. The best way to change rule infraction and prevent ensuing damage is to change the rule so that the activity is permitted in a controlled, regulated manner. Restricting camping to an established site would be the best way to reduce damage to the area. (Remember me? I just recommended your "My Jouney" book to yet another AT hopeful!)

    1. Thanks Ellie, I do remember you. I had such a great season, that I'm looking at doing similar jobs here on the west coast, for the Pacific Crest Trail.
      Wish me luck!