Coronavirus puts AT festivals in limbo

The AT’s crossing of the Susquehanna River at Clarks Ferry and Dunannon, Pa. with Peter’s Mountain.

Every summer along the Appalachian Trail, communities host festivals for hikers and members of their community to mingle, eat, and have a joyous time.

That could change this year amid coronavirus spread and concerns about community transmission of the respiratory pandemic that’s gripped the globe.

As of March 18 some communities are still planning their festivals in case the pandemic is brought under control before those dates.

Damascas, Va.’s Trail Days festival was still being planned as of a March 18 email from Tim Williams, the chairman of Damascas’s Parks and Recreation committee. However, that could change for the May 15-17 festival because new restrictions continue to come into play nationwide to limit spread of the disease. From Williams’ email to me:

We are currently setting up an emergency council meeting to discuss this. We have been in touch with Va. state health official’s, the ATC, and Long Distance Hiker Association to discuss the festival. We should have an official statement by mid week next week.

However, today, it was announced that Trail Days has been cancelled. The main website had not been updated yet, but the ATC shared the news on their COVID-19 news page. Additionally, the town sent cancellation notices to various partners, such as the Place Hostel, which Awol’s AT Guide shared on Facebook.

Letter from Damascas shared on Facebook announcing the Trail Days cancellation.

Several hundred miles north along the footpath, near the AT’s midpoint in Pennsylvania, Duncannon Borough is still planning its June 20 AT Festival, a joint effort between the town and the Duncannon Appalachian Trail Community (DATC). Obviously, around June most thru-hikers are hitting Pennsylvania and the festival in the small town along the Susquehanna River is an event that everyone looks forward to.

However, non-life-sustaining businesses are shuttered in Pennsylvania because of coronavirus by order of the governor. Still June is a long way away, DATC President Sean O’Shell said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’d still like to have the approval,” he told Duncannon Borough Council on March 17.

Council gave the festival a conditional approval with the provisions that the coronavirus situation could require either entity to cancel the event. O’Shell was agreeable. DATC wants to protect the community, too.

“We just don’t know,” council President Jeffrey Kirkhoff said. “We don’t want to cancel this.”

I reached out to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to see if they had guidance for communities planning festivals. I’ll update if they send one.

But as of March 19, the ATC was encouraging thru- and section hikers to postpone their trips because of the risk of spreading coronavirus at crowded shelters, campgrounds, and picnic areas. Many state forest and park facilities along the path are already closed to protect the public and staff.

Stay healthy and safe out there.

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