The End of the Appalachian Trail
August 30, 2015 10:02 AM   Subscribe

"Where would they end it? At a stream? On a piece of grass?" Maine's Baxter State park, which hosts the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, pressures local and national groups affiliated with the AT to address their concerns of overuse or potentially find another northern terminus for the trail.

Baxter State Park's 2014 letter [pdf] outlining its concerns of Appalachian Trail overuse ends with the suggestion of a permit system to limit use or moving the AT and its terminus.

Baxter State Park's Facebook page criticizes Scott Jurek's (previously) use of the park, Jurek responds.

Hikers Behaving Badly: Appalachian Trail Partying Raises Ire
posted by peeedro (41 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
So basically it's not clear to me that there's anything more to this story than Jensen Bissell being a sanctimonious killjoy. I'm not seeing any evidence that thru-hikers cause any more problems than anyone else.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:35 AM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I get that Bissell is super mad about Jurek having had champagne to celebrate his accomplishment, but given that this is a not uncommon occurrence with less conscientious hikers who do leave spoor when they are done, it comes off as particularly bitter.
posted by Kitteh at 10:39 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The park director comes off as a sanctimonious jackass, but at least in the article Jurek isn't cast in the best light, either.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2015


It actually sounds like Bissell has been trying to raise awareness of a larger issue surrounding improper and unsustainable activity regarding use of Baxter park property by AT hikers which Jurek himself acknowledges. If I were Bissell, and my concerns had gone unheeded, I too would use this as an opportunity to bring greater awareness to the issue. So sue me for caring about the long term health, sustainability, and proper use of the land I am charged with protecting and being a fun-killing party pooper.
posted by Dalby at 10:50 AM on August 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


So you are not allowed to drink alcohol on the trail? I thought prohibition was cancelled years ago. What a bunch of killjoys.
posted by mary8nne at 10:50 AM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Jurek sounds like a jerk, and I would be annoyed by him if I were a park director, too. He's basically using the trail as a race-track. He doesn't care about the landscape, which is a shame, because it's amazing landscape. But some people are assholes, and that's not a reason to reroute the Appalachian Trail.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:51 AM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


"These 'corporate events' have no place in the Park".

Agreed.
posted by parki at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it was a mistake to conflate the behavior with the volume issue. The unsustainable volume is a legitimate and complicated concern that needs to be talked about.

All the behavior whining is totally within his control. Need more money for facilities, staff, enforcement? Come up with a plan for that.
posted by ctmf at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2015


It actually sounds like Bissell has been trying to raise awareness of a larger issue surrounding improper and unsustainable activity regarding use of Baxter park property by AT hikers which Jurek himself acknowledges.
Well, I mean, Bissell says that the thru-hikers are causing issues because of their improper and unsustainable activities, but I have my doubts. They are 3% of the annual visitors to the park. Some of them drink alcohol, but you're never going to convince me that none of the day-trippers drink alcohol. (In fact, the writer of one of the articles said that the only alcohol her or she saw was being consumed by a day-hiker.) Bissel doesn't like the AT hikers, but he's not exactly giving me any convincing evidence that they're really causing problems. And because he comes off as unreasonable, it's hard to take his word for it.
I think it was a mistake to conflate the behavior with the volume issue.
I don't think the volume issue is convincing. We're talking about a very small number of people and a very small percentage of the park's annual visitors.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:00 AM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you can complain about natural resource damage or legitimate overuse, but when you throw in so much moralizing, it's hard to take your other complaints seriously. It's too often that rules are made too tightly, but offenses are overlooked 9/10 of the time and only enforced when someone annoys the powers that be. This feels very, very much like one of those situations.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:05 AM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


So you are not allowed to drink alcohol on the trail?

The AT is on a mix of federal, state, municipal and private land, all which have their own rules and regulations. For the most part, no, but maybe in some places. But in my experience, its not uncommon to see people drinking at shelters.
posted by peeedro at 11:05 AM on August 30, 2015


Is it customary to always hike South to North? When I lived in Atlanta I used to drive up to Springer Mountain and hike the first ten miles or so a few times a year. The trailhead is in the middle of beautiful nowhere. It could be crowded in April since it seemed like that's when a lot of northbound groups started, but wouldn't it be far less crowded at the finish since everyone hikes at a different pace?

I don't recall anything but the most friendly greetings from the locals I met along the trail in Georgia. But then again, Georgians are among the nicest people on the planet.

Having grown up in Philadelphia I know for a fact that the further north you travel from Georgia, the less friendly and welcoming people become.
posted by three blind mice at 11:05 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: "I don't think the volume issue is convincing. We're talking about a very small number of people and a very small percentage of the park's annual visitors."

Did you read the PDF report that specifically addresses this issue, at length?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on August 30, 2015


So you are not allowed to drink alcohol on the trail? I thought prohibition was cancelled years ago.

Bad news, chief: there are tons of places and times where you're not allowed to drink. (While operating a motor vehicle on a public highway, for example, at least in most places.) Whether or not it's appropriate for this particular place is a matter open for debate, but it's by no means a reasonable assumption that you can spray champagne all over a public landmark and it's totes cool.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


(There's also the matter, not an insignificant one, that the upcoming movie A Walk in the Woods will probably bring a lot of inexperienced hikers to the trail.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here's a list of things the park staff has highlighted as problems. Also, note that the mountain in question is also a multi-hour hike FOR THE RANGERS so they're not up there all the time able to enforce rules:

*Violation of many park rules, including failing to pay camping fee, camping in protected areas, bringing pets into the park, public drinking, and disobeying camp site number limits.
*Traveling in large numbers. Many parks in the Northeast limit hiking groups to 12, to limit trampling of the trail and preserve wilderness quietude; they note frequent groups of 20 or more, and groups of up to 45. This occurred 10 times during the 2014 season, an increase from prior seasons.
*Use of alcohol and recreational drugs at the summit, out of reach of rangers
*Service animal fraud, where hikers who wish to bring their NON-service dogs with them to the end of the trail procure false papers for their dogs. There have been multiple convictions for this crime.
*Increased numbers of South-Bound hikers starting in the park, which is one of the wildest areas of the park, without adequate wayfinding skills, supplies, or support, who need ranger support or rescue. (When they come from the south they've already made those errors in the better-staffed southern bits of the trail.) This is the park's job, but increasing numbers create a strain on staff, and it is not a "beginner" park for hiking.
*Hikers who go "up and over," off the trail at the top of the mountain and down the protected wilderness on the other side to get to a particular campground. These hikers also expect rangers to use their radios to arrange them taxis from the campground, which has no cell service.
*Hikers who deliberately arrive late in the day, after the AT staff is gone for the day, in order to hike and camp off-trail in non-campground areas.
*Hikers with support groups (family/friends/corporate) who reserve all the campsites in advance so that other hikers are unable to camp legally. Camping space is already highly limited within the park.
*Graffiti

The basic conflict, the letter notes, is that the Appalachian Trial is managed under the growth model but Baxter is a "fixed capacity" model and they already at or over that capacity, and increasing numbers on the AT reduces their ability to care for the rest of the park, and damages the AT habitats, regardless of whether AT hikers are following the rules or not.

The AT hikers who are disobeying the park rules are also creating serious problems for the "good" AT hikers, pushing them out of campsites, leaving trash and graffiti, damaging vulnerable habitats. Also what kind of dickbag acquires fake service dog credentials???
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:20 AM on August 30, 2015 [29 favorites]


Isn't the solution to higher demand creating more options? Maybe make cross country (east - west routes) more appealing. A younger version of myself spent a month in India pretending to be a Sadu... There, thanks to their long history, you can basically walk on well worn trails between any city. Imagine if you could do that in the states. Plant orchards of local edibles at day walk distances... Striving for a more walkable country is something that can be done both locally and nationally. Worth thinking about.
posted by astrobiophysican at 11:24 AM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also what kind of dickbag acquires fake service dog credentials???
The kind who exists in the feverish imagination of the kind of people who yell at my friend for having a people-with-disabilities parking pass for having a semi-invisible disability? (She has cerebral palsy, but people who yell at her generally can't tell that at the moment they yell at her.) Increasingly, people are getting service animals for invisible disabilities like PTSD and other mental health disorders, and that's increased accusations of service animal fraud. It also means that there's a thinner line between legitimate and illegitimate claims: it's not always clear what's the line between "I like having my dog around" and "my dog helps me cope with my depression." It may be that what he interprets as fraud is not seen as fraud by the people claiming to have service animals. They've just never in the past been in a situation where they needed to register their animal as a service animal in order to have it around. And at any rate, this stuff is a matter of law, and you have to follow the law even if you don't like it.

I think a lot of the problems in the PDF could be dealt with if they would see the thru-hikers as legitimate park users and not people who fall outside the park's mandate whom they must grudgingly accommodate. Maybe they could try to set up a system for hikers to call cabs so they don't have to bother park rangers. Maybe they should look for solutions to the issue of there being no place for the families of hikers to camp. Maybe the AT Conservancy could help fund such efforts. But I mean, the AT is a frigging national treasure. It's not nothing. The people who spend six months of their lives hiking all 2000 miles of it are not bad people, and it's not unreasonable to want your family around to celebrate the end of that accomplishment.

I guess I should just feel immensely lucky that the parts of the AT I've hiked have generally been places where the locals seemed to welcome hikers' presence. Or maybe I was just too oblivious to recognize the resentment!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:46 AM on August 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: " It may be that what he interprets as fraud is not seen as fraud by the people claiming to have service animals. "

If you read the PDF, you'll note that there have been convictions, and they note hikers exchanging tips on how to circumvent the park's rules online and how to get fake service papers for your pet dog. I fully understand that people use service dogs for many different things. But fraudulent service dog use in Baxter is an evidence-supported problem (again, as noted in the PDF you ought to read), and hikers have admitted to circumventing the rules about dogs to bring pets. That creates problems for people like your friend who have legitimate but invisible or non-traditional needs for service animals. I would have thought you'd be sympathetic to able-bodied people abusing accommodations for the disabled, particularly in way that tightens the restrictions on those accommodations.

ArbitraryAndCapricious: "And at any rate, this stuff is a matter of law, and you have to follow the law even if you don't like it. "

It's also a matter of law that wilderness parks can limit or close access to service animals to sensitive habitats that can be damaged by service animals, or where there are wildlife susceptible to various dog-borne diseases. It's fully within the park's legal ability to close sensitive wilderness areas to service animals, and abuse of service animal accommodations makes that more likely.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


(There's also the matter, not an insignificant one, that the upcoming movie A Walk in the Woods will probably bring a lot of inexperienced hikers to the trail.)

That's what I was alluding to with the title, as I was talking to some hiking buddies last night who all thought the movie will be a bad thing. But I figured since the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is promoting the film, it didn't need any help from me. I don't think a hashtag awareness campaign is going to solve many problems.
posted by peeedro at 12:20 PM on August 30, 2015


If you read the PDF, you'll note that there have been convictions, and they note hikers exchanging tips on how to circumvent the park's rules online and how to get fake service papers for your pet dog.
There have been two convictions, and by conviction they mean a ticket that was issued and was not successfully contested. I don't think that's evidence of a widespread problem. Other than that, we have his say-so. He says that there are websites that will help you get fake service animal credentials, but I'd be curious to look at them and see if that's what they actually say.
It's also a matter of law that wilderness parks can limit or close access to service animals to sensitive habitats that can be damaged by service animals, or where there are wildlife susceptible to various dog-borne diseases.
Sure, in which case they should pursue that agenda, rather than using service animals as an argument to reroute the AT. They would, of course, then have to make an argument for the habitat being so delicate that allowing service animals wasn't a reasonable accommodation. I'm not sure what makes this particular habitat so much more delicate than any other habitat and so much more vulnerable to dog-borne diseases, but they could make that case.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Baxter Park officials come off as self-righteous scolds who are inventing problems that don't exist. Over on FB there are allegations that they are deleting posts from eyewitnesses who contradict the park account of what happened. And do I understand correctly that Jurek's littering ticket was for spilling champagne on the ground? Can you imagine a more petty bullshit charge?

Interestingly, this weird hostility of park employers to AT hikers goes back for at least a generation. When I finished my thru hike in 1980, they were looking for any excuse they could find to ticket you. I went up the mountain in the dark and toasted the sunrise with a bottle of scotch.
posted by LarryC at 12:50 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


To an extent, this is an intractable problem.

The AT is antithetical to some people's concept of Wilderness. In my head, the main draw of the AT is the established trail culture; trail-names, trail-angels, the half-gallon challenge, blue-blaze versus white blaze versus yellow blaze, not being tied to a group but also free to join like-minded individuals you meet on the trail, et cetera. The social aspect of the through-hike is the most unique aspect, especially compared to other continental trails in the US.

To people such as Mission in the CBS link, who seek only solitude and quiet, the answer is "find another trail." Too much of the AT is heavily populated, near major population centers and heavily hiked for it to be a true Wilderness experience.

For some communities, re-routing the trail is an option. The trail at it's inception to involve copious treks along county highways, skirting through easements and borderline trespassing. The trail is a living, shifting thing, though, and these have been reduced as the ATC has sought out more dedicated paths. This isn't really an option for Baxter SP. Far too many hikers are going to summit Katahdin regardless of ATC official routes. Its too indelibly linked with the history of the AT.

I don't know what the ATC is going to propose. It doesn't help that Bissell has the PR acumen of a elementary school hall-monitor.

To an extent his proactive approach is very admirable; it would've been easy to sit on your hands until flocks of in-temperate through hikers fall off a cliff hiking off trail (which already happens plenty often enough at Katahdin). But listing off individual through-hikers that peeved you or writing citations at the end of a press event (an events you did nothing to manage before-hand) is unconstructively passive-aggressive.

The kerfuffle is further marred by Bissel's attempt to pad the list of legitimate concerns with a bunch of spurious bunk. Through hikers drink? In experience they drink far-far-far less than day-hikers (there are very few occasions where lugging around an extra 4 pounds of diuretics makes sense to someone on a 2,100 mile trek). Through hikers make unreasonable requests? Then deny those requests and move on. Campers trying to game the permit registration system? This is literally a problem for every park where campsites fill up regularly. Party size too big? This is a misperception of someone from the outside looking in. The vast majority of through hikers start as individuals or as a pair; But by the time you reach Katahdin there's a good chance you know a good portion of the hikers in front of or behind you really well.

I think trying to work more cooperatively with the ATC to raise awareness of the most salient issues will be the eventual outcome, but the brinksmanship of "follow the rules or change the trail" is a silly way to get there.
posted by midmarch snowman at 12:56 PM on August 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


The number of dogs in wilderness areas that disallow them (besides service animals) has exploded in the last couple years. The National Park Service recently had to clarify rules because so many people are bringing in dogs with credentials they bought online or claiming emotional support animals as service animals.
That isn't actually what your link says, for what it's worth. The problem is that National Parks are exempt from the ADA. The current (as of last year) regulations for National Parks say the no-pets rule doesn't apply to seeing-eye dogs or guide dogs for deaf people, and that's now considered insufficient, because the Federal government recognizes that there are other kinds of service animals. The new regulations establish the requirements for service animals, so that the category can be expanded to cover the animals serving people with a wide range of disabilities. This regulation expands, rather than limits, park visitors' ability to use service animals.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:58 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been to Baxter but not near Katahdin specifically, and I've been to a lot of state and national parks all over the US, including day hikes in portions of the AT in Georgia in the late 1990s. From personal experience I think 1 out of every 10 people heading out to the wilderness/wilds is a total dickbag who does idiot shit like graffiti or leaving trash or breaking the rules about having pet dogs/staying on-trail/in designated camping areas (and then gets testy when you call em on it, like I mentioned in this prior comment). For some reason these dickbags tend to congregate in the same places in the parks, meaning the ruination is sometimes held to a small area. When reading the letter from Bissell, I fully believe that the part of the AT leading to and from Katahdin is being trashed/misused by a small percentage of the AT thru hikers and support teams in this same way. When you've got 100 people heading to a place a year, 10 is a manageable percent of dickbags...but if you've got 900 thru hikers ending there (the number they have had in 2015 so far), plus day hikers, plus people waiting for thru hikers-- 10% starts to be enough to ruin it for everyone.

From the graffiti I have seen in national/state parks that was dated from the early 1900s, I think a specific portion of people have always been wilderness trashers, it's not a new phenomena. But what is new is the increased ability to get into these wild and natural areas, and a better network of communication about the coolest/best places to go and the need to come up with more and more wild things to do to prove they've been there and YOLOed better. Yes, Jurek should get fined for dripping champagne on the ground--because the top of the goddamn mountain has a fragile and rare ecosystem and you don't just get to decide to destroy that. He did something awesome, true, but celebrate in a way that doesn't inadvertently destroy the thing you are celebrating.

I support the idea of changing the AT in order to ensure that the wilds of Baxter Park stay wild. Maybe make the final few miles of the AT end in a huge paid camp area (easily accessed from outside the park) with some fancy signs about "the end of the AT" for photo purposes. Then hikers can have all their friends/family/sponsoring corporations come celebrate responsibly with them, and a landline can be installed so they can call a taxi, and lottery off a few permits ( a specific # for day hikers, a # for thru hikers, and a # for families/friends of hikers) to get to the top of Katahdin for a classic AT experience. The money raised by this camp could be used to hire a bunch of rangers to better police the trail miles within Baxter and let them enforce the rules.
posted by holyrood at 1:01 PM on August 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


900 people a year completing a thru hike? That sounds awfully high.
posted by LarryC at 1:12 PM on August 30, 2015


As someone who grew up there it seems a very Maine Thing to me to want the benefits of the landscape (tourist dollars) while also wanting to sternly police how that landscape is experienced (alone, in silent contemplation of god's majesty). In general there is a tremendous ambivalence about People From Away coming in even as that's about all that's allowing the local economies to function, so I can see how an increase in thru-hikers would be a strain not just logistically but culturally for the park conservancy.

Jurek squandered an opportunity to be anything but a chest-thumper at the moment he had the most attention on him for his accomplishment, and if "littering" is the closest violation they could find for spraying alcohol all over a mountaintop then so be it, and he can appeal. Bissel has a very clear mandate that seems to have become culturally incompatible with the the goals of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and finding a scapegoat gives him more attention to make his case. (To my mind it's no more cynical attention-whoring than the very idea of racing the AT in the first place).

What are you gonna do? They will either need to move the terminus of the AT (never happen) or write off the Katahdin part of Baxter (never happen), or, more likely, find that the tension between their differing goals results in a delicate equilibrium where the Appalachian Trail continues to be enjoyed in greater numbers and along the way a small number of the 10% dickbag quotient get shushed and policed and nannied into a less consumeristic experience of the (quasi-)wilderness.
posted by AndNeverWell at 1:40 PM on August 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Jurek should get fined for dripping champagne on the ground

He didn't drip a little champagne on the ground. He shook it up and sprayed it like a firehose as if we were in the winner's circle at NASCAR. This is fragile alpine and subalpine ecological zones.
posted by JackFlash at 2:04 PM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've hiked Katahdin as part of a Boy Scout High Adventure trip; our troop had three groups that did a set of canoeing, hiking, and climbing, of the three groups ours was the only one allowed (by the Scouting rules, not the park's) to use the Appalachian Trail (Hunt Trail) ascent and the Knife's Edge on descent; the other groups had to use the Saddle Trail for both due to the condition of their adult leaders. I have hiked most of the rest of the New England section of the trail at one time or another, but never through hiked (still on my bucket list, but as I get older I acknowledge its less and less likely to get crossed off).

While I appreciate the park's concerns about impact to the park and so on, I really don't see how they can block access to through hikers and even those who are doing sections of the trail without causing a big stink. Even if they officially change the endpoint, it'll just become another alternate route on what people perceive as the real trail -- there's plenty of alternate routes using different colored blazes, so its already a choice between up this mountain or through that valley.

Mostly, I wonder what's going to happen if they start turning away people who've spent weeks or months on the trail heading for this goal. I would hope that anyone who can show they started in Georgia will be waved through, but they sound like the kind of assholes who would say "nope, too many people already today, turn around and try again later." Even for the Boy Scouts, being turned away from the peak would be a major downer - some groups of scouts live in cities or deep suburbia, and don't get this kind of opportunity often, and have schedules where a days delay means going back home without that experience.

I also wonder about their fears of an influx of people due to a movie. More people should also mean more money, and if the money can't offset the impact, charge more, don't just shut it down. I know in other parks, they regularly move trails around a bit to relieve the impact on a specific area, from what I remember of the mountain (this was 30 years ago for me) there were plenty of areas where the trail could have been moved without issue.
posted by Blackanvil at 2:56 PM on August 30, 2015


900 people a year completing a thru hike? That sounds awfully high.
On my second read through, I was wrong about 900 people doing thru hikes in 2015. In 2014, 901 thru hikers registered at Baxter. Helpfully the source of this was linked in the original post:Baxter State Park's 2014 letter [pdf].
posted by holyrood at 2:57 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jackflash, thanks. From the few pics I saw I couldn't tell how much was spilled. Hell yes, fine the guy for spraying champagne all over! That kind of lichen and plants takes a long time to develop and recover from damage.
posted by holyrood at 3:00 PM on August 30, 2015


If I ran the day-to-day operations of Hell, service animal fraudsters would be just one circle up from college football players who get bogus disability certificates so that they can park in handicapped spaces on campus.
posted by Creosote at 4:58 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I have to admit, the worst offense I observed/took part in on the AT was unsanctioned dog accompaniment. A couple hiking slightly behind me and my buddy had a dog with them. To their credit, they boarded the dog during long wildness sections and were planning on boarding the guy during the entirety of Maine, but through smaller parks and sections that prohibited dogs-on-trail they simply ignored the rules for a few miles at a time if necessary.

They were nice, and up-front about breaking regulation, and attempted to be conscious of the dog's impact on the trail, so everyone seemed to look the other way. Truth be told, I just really, really, really like dogs, so I wasn't saying anything. It was always a pleasure if we took a day off and they caught up with us. But having a dog in many wilderness situations is a stupid, stupid idea and in general listening to park recommendations on animal use is an incontrovertible part of Leave-No-Trace ethos. Also, bears.

But as good as through hikers tend to be on self-policing camp etiquette and litter removal, trail culture tacitly condoned having dogs along with, even if it is sometimes a very asshole-ish thing to do. If nothing else I agree dog use is absolutely something the AT community needs to be more honest and vigilant about.

(now seems to be a good time to mention I only did a few hundred miles in the Mid-Atlantic accompanying a friend who through hiked in 2009, so I'm absolutely no authority)
posted by midmarch snowman at 6:59 PM on August 30, 2015


I'm surprised champagne is different enough from rain water to make a difference.
posted by smackfu at 9:26 AM on August 31, 2015


I'm surprised champagne is different enough from rain water to make a difference.

It contains a lot of sugar. As the ranger noted, bees started to swarm around the site.

Look, Jurek had an emotional moment and made a mistake which is human and understandable. The proper response is to say "I'm sorry. I had a momentary lapse of judgement," pay the trivial fine, and move on. Instead Jurek has hired a lawyer and gone all "libertarian freedoms" and made an ass of himself.
posted by JackFlash at 10:06 AM on August 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Re: Service Animals...

There is no federally mandated certification for service animals. There are no national guidelines, there are no requirements, there are no rules regarding what can be or who actually needs a service animal. The ADA makes no mention of any requirement surrounding service animals.

You don't need a prescription for a service animal. You don't have to state what services your service animal provides (as that would indicate something about the owners personal medical record... which is none of anybody's business). Your service animal doesn't even have to be a dog. It can be a horse, or a monkey, or even a bird. (Although only dogs and horses are acknowledged by the ADA.)

You don't need to forge paperwork. You just need to state that your pet is your service animal and bam! You're covered under the ADA.

I've hiked the entire AT, but we started in Maine and worked our way south. I didn't bring my dog but I probably saw a hundred people that did. It's the woods, it's outdoors, it's not that hard to believe that people want their pets there or even make accommodations for that sort of thing.

The fact that a campground is requiring some sort of paperwork for this leads me to believe that they've been making up their own rules for so long that they've not even bothered to check with what options are legally available to them.

tl;dr: if they want to route the trail to a different end point I'm all for it. As long as this park no longer gets any federal money of any kind.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:42 AM on August 31, 2015


As long as this park no longer gets any federal money of any kind.

First, the fact that it is named Baxter State Park should be a clue. But is isn't even really a state managed park. From its web site: "Baxter Park is operated solely through user fees and interest from trust funds provided by Percival Baxter. Baxter State Park receives no tax dollars or other funds from the State of Maine."

It was established by a charitable trust, not by the government. You can now sleep soundly. It has never received federal money.
posted by JackFlash at 11:03 AM on August 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


Blue_Villain: "You just need to state that your pet is your service animal and bam! You're covered under the ADA."

This is emphatically untrue and is the kind of crap that creates problems for people with real service animals. Owners with disabilities are permitted to train their own service dogs, but simply saying "My pet is a service animal!" does not get you coverage under the ADA and is a terrible abuse of laws intended to protect the disabled and enable their full participation in daily life. The law is not there so jackasses can take their pets everywhere. Disability advocacy groups complain about just this sort of thing, and have advocated for laws making service animal fraud a crime with jail time (as it now is in Florida); some disability groups are now advocating for national guidelines and registries because of the growing abuse of the accommodation by non-disabled pet owners.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eyebrows: you're missing the point. It may be a "terrible abuse" but even for a "real" service animal that's all you need to say.

Per the ADA document I linked to earlier: (emphasis mine)

>When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Answering #1 is as simple as saying yes. No forged documents required. That was my point... the fact that they're asking for documents means they don't understand the law.

And anybody that thinks that state parks don't receive federal money just doesn't understand how the NPS works. There's a park down the street from my house. It's not a state park, it's not a city park, it's just a neighborhood park... It receives about $500 a year in federal grants for upkeep. The vast majority of state and local parks still receive federal grants.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:28 AM on August 31, 2015


And anybody that thinks that state parks don't receive federal money just doesn't understand how the NPS works.

First, the words National Park Service might be a clue. The NPS has nothing to do with funding state and local parks.

You might be referring to the Land & Water Conservation Fund, which provides matching grants to some state and local parks. But only $40 million annually is budgeted as grants for tens of thousands of state and local parks, so you can do the math.

At any rate, you needn't worry about Baxter State Park suckling at the federal teat. They have their own private funding.
posted by JackFlash at 11:47 AM on August 31, 2015


So many people misunderstanding my point. Even if they use different guidelines other than the ADA THERE IS NO GOVERNMENT ISSUED IDENTIFICATION for service animals.

So whatever documents they're trying to get people to produce likely don't exist. State or local issued documents would only apply to residents of those areas, which is clearly not the entire visiting population of the park. Asking people to provide that documentation would be misleading, even for people who have "valid" service animals, since there is no such documentation available to many of their visitors.

There are private organizations that will certify your animal, trainer, whatever. Typically, those are also the organizations that provide "valid" service animals. Several of those organizations that I've worked with do not provide any such documentation, just a dog tag (that can be made at any engravers shop) that indicates that it is a service animal provided by said organization, with a phone number. Some do have certificates of a sort, but not all. Because, again, it's not a universally required thing.

I'm not condoning the act of lying about service animals just to get your pet into the park. I'm merely saying that their implementation of the rules is problematic at best. Which, in turn, leads me to believe that they are poorly operated. And as such, I have no problem rerouting the trail around them. Especially if they have rules against pets. Because many of the people that hike the trail hike with their pets.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:12 PM on August 31, 2015


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