Trail hiker/runner upsets the nature lovers

Scott Jurek’s champagne toast when reaching the terminus of the Appalachian Trail has sparked a debate on the use of nature trails. Photo: Baxter State Park Facebook page.

A man who set a record for the shortest time to run the entire Appalachian Trail has ignited a fierce debate among hikers and protectors of the Maine-to-Georgia route.

Scott Jurek’s journey through 14 states took 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes, NPR reported earlier this week.

“I think the biggest reason for me after all these years of running ultra-marathons and testing my body was really to, you know, find a new level of adventure,” he told host Robert Siegel.

That brought criticism from NPR listeners.

“Why on Earth would you waste our time, and yours, telling us about some idiot who raced the length of the Appalachian Trail? My goodness, the whole point of walking in the woods is to enjoy nature,” Barry Pritzker of Greenfield Center, N.Y., said on a “letters” segment of All Things Considered this week.

“I don’t deny the person the opportunity to race on the trail, I do object to the media promoting this type of pursuit as a desirable goal,” Paul Scott of Mascot, Tenn., wrote.

The reaction to the coverage symbolizes a growing theme: Individuals objecting to others experiencing their lives in ways that disagree with their own sensibilities. Therefore, it’s a waste of time for a news organization to talk about it.

Oh, please.

When Jurek reached the end of the AT, he (and others, admittedly) did what thousands of others have done in the same location. He celebrated. With champagne.

That got him a citation from Baxter State Park, which is defending itself on Facebook today.

Ultramarathoning in Baxter Park – another perspective.

Our Facebook page is a great place to celebrate the nature of Baxter State Park. On occasion, we need to use this platform for serious discussion.

Scott Jurek’s recent completion of the Appalachian Trail in the shortest time on record is a remarkable physical accomplishment. With all due respect to Mr. Jurek’s ability, Baxter State Park was not the appropriate place for such an event.

Let’s be clear and concise, Scott Jurek’s physical abilities were recognized by corporations engaged in running and outdoor related products. The race vehicle used to support Scott in his run, as well as Scott’s headband, clearly displays these corporate sponsors. The sponsors are providing money and equipment to support Scott’s run in exchange for advertisement and engagement that they expect will protect or increase their market share and improve their profits. Included in this exchange are media companies such as “The Game Changers, LLC” of Laguna Beach CA, who were hired to capture video and photographic coverage of Scott’s run to enhance the opportunities for commercial benefit from his run.

When Scott arrived at Baxter Park to complete his run at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he brought all of this to Baxter Peak, in Maine’s largest wilderness.
Mr. Jurek and the corporate sponsors were careful not to mention in the media coverage that one of the unfortunate outcomes of the celebration party at Baxter Peak at the completion of the event were the three summons issued to Mr. Jurek by a Baxter Park Ranger for the drinking of alcoholic beverages in public places (BSP Rule 7 and Maine State General Law), for littering (BSP Rule 4.5) and for hiking with an oversize group (BSP Rule 2.2). In addition, media personnel were issued a summons for violation of a commercial media permit which prohibited filming within 500′ of Baxter Peak. Not much to be proud of there.

An additional discouraging observation. The Appalachian Trail provided the challenge and backdrop for this event and consequently, provided the conduit for this event to land in Baxter Park. The profile of the AT is large enough to attract the corporate sponsorship necessary to support and carry such an event. The AT is apparently comfortable with the fit of this type of event in its mission. The formal federal designation and authority of the Appalachian Trial does not extend into Baxter State Park. The AT within the Park is hosted at the consideration of the Baxter State Park Authority. The Authority is currently considering the increasing pressures, impacts and conflicts that the Appalachian Trail brings to the Park and if a continued relationship is in the best interests of Baxter State Park.

Thousands of people, including Mainers and others from all over the world, visit Baxter Park and hike in the Park’s wilderness, including a climb to Baxter Peak. People celebrate their accomplishment, often with their families and often many times over, quietly and with appreciation for this precious gift left to us in perpetuity by Percival Baxter. These “corporate events” have no place in the Park and are incongruous with the Park’s mission of resource protection, the appreciation of nature and the respect of the experience of others in the Park. We hope for the support of the AT and BSP communities to help us steer these events to more appropriate venues in the future.

That only added more kindling to the fire.

“They represent three percent of our use and about twenty percent of our effort,” Park Director Jensen Bissell said of the non-locals who use the park.

A woman who happened to summit to the top of Mt. Katahdin at the same time wasn’t offended by what she found at the top, Leslie Burnett wrote.

The pristine beauty is impossible to describe. When we reached the top there were 25 or so people who had also summited that day, and many were waiting for Scott Jurek’s final ascent, and we decided to wait too. While there, we watched a couple take wedding photos in full wedding gown and dress blues. We spoke with a gentleman who was carrying a fallen soldier’s stone for The Summit Project. We had lovely conversations about running, hiking and the amount of endurance and internal fortitude that it would take to complete an AT trek in 46 days. It was calm, peaceful and great to connect with people from all over the world. It wasn’t rowdy, loud or disrespectful. There was a lot of excitement when Jurek made it to the summit, and I would expect there to be. It didn’t take away from the beauty of Katahdin, and even Jurek commented on how stunning the area was. The champagne was a celebration of a long test of endurance, and he deserved every sip. Just like MANY hikers deserve their celebratory beers when they reach the summit. Yes, it ‘s against the rules, and maybe Jurek deserves the citation. He opened a bottle and then sat down to answer questions. I’m also surprised he was cited for having more than 12 people in his party. I watched them arrive, and I didn’t think there were even that many – but regardless, they were close friends and they deserved to share that achievement with him. All the people you see in the picture that BSP posted were NOT in his hiking party – that was the total of people who had hiked up independently, and the ones who had hiked with Jurek.

Lighten up, Maine.