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Thread: Hikers be wary: Crime strikes on AT

  1. #1
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    By Laura Clark
    Amherst New-Era Progress
    Published: May 22, 2008
    Violence near the Appalachian Trail recently has raised trail-safety issues, especially in light of warming weather that is enthusing outdoors lovers.
    On May 8, two fishermen were shot while camping a couple miles from a shelter where the suspected gunman killed two Appalachian Trail hikers in 1981.
    On May 3, a female Appalachian Trail hiker told authorities she was abducted and sexually assaulted when a man offered her a ride to the post office in Troutville.
    Roughly 80 miles of the Appalachian Trail run through Bedford, Amherst and Nelson counties, offering plenty of places for camping and hiking.
    The U.S. Forest Service has 11 law enforcement officers for 1.8 million acres for the George Washington and Jefferson National forests. The service also has a cooperative agreement with local sheriff’s departments to patrol heavily populated areas, said Eric Smith, a forest service law enforcement officer stationed at Natural Bridge.
    Smith said the forest areas are relatively safe. The bulk of violations right now are off-road vehicle violations, alcohol and drugs, as well as sanitation violations.
    But the officers mainly patrol in their vehicles, not on the hiking trails.
    Enter Mike Pierson, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer with nearly 30 years of active duty. Pierson is the Tye River Ridgerunner, and works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. On a weekly basis, he covers the 70 miles of trail from Reed’s Gap in Nelson County to roughly 10 miles south of the James River.
    His duties include working with the local trail clubs to keep the trail in good condition, talking to hikers he meets and sharing news about the weather and hiking plans along with advice on hydration and nutrition. Pierson also responds to emergencies and is in contact with law enforcement and emergency service workers.
    He said more than 1,000 hikers are on the Appalachian Trail right now, and that number doesn’t include day hikers or section hikers. It’s fortunate that a sense of community forms on the trail, he said.
    “They look out for their neighbors, and a lot of close friendships are formed on the trail,” Pierson said. “There will always be a few bad eggs as the trail is a microcosm of society. Those that may cause problems are soon identified and you wouldn’t believe how fast information travels up and down the trail.”
    Pierson suggests reporting any person or situation that doesn’t feel right. But first, hike away or set up camp elsewhere.
    “People ask if it’s safe, and you can’t guarantee anybody safety anywhere,” said Sam Ripley, supervisor of trails for the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club. “People are pretty scared anymore. I feel more comfortable here than on most city streets.”
    Ripley and his wife, Sharon, were weed eating the Appalachian Trail on Bald Knob Mountain last weekend. The Lynchburg couple has been on the trails almost every weekend for the last quarter-century.
    “We have two sons, and when they were young we wanted something to do as a family and decided hiking was an excellent family kind of sport,” Sharon Ripley said. “I still think it’s about as safe a place as you can be.”
    The Ripleys suggest hiking in groups, taking a first-aid kit and cell phone with the local sheriff’s number programmed (though coverage is very spotty), letting people know where you’re going and when you plan to return or check-in. And be prepared, with rain gear, warm clothes and water.
    “Most of the trouble does happen near where road crossings are, because people are not going to get away from roads. Up here we’re probably three miles from any road crossing,” Ripley said on Bald Knob Mountain in Amherst County.
    Through-hikers Brian Reetz and Seema Iyer, picnicking near U.S. 60, said they avoid trail shelters close to roads and won’t hitch a ride without each other after learning about the Troutville incident.
    “You kind of get familiar with the look of long-distance hikers,” Reetz said. “People who don’t fit that maybe you’re just a little more careful, especially if they claim to be and they don’t fit that description.”
    “He wanted me to carry pepper spray,” Iyer said, “but we never got around to it. It just feels like extra weight that might be unnecessary.”
    Iyer and Reetz, both of Boston, said they wouldn’t be surprised if some hikers carried guns for protection, though they do not, adding that the laws vary too much by state or whether you are in a national forest or national park. In the George Washington National Forest, firearms are not permitted out of hunting seasons, but with a state-issued concealed-handgun permit, firearms are legal.
    “We have our (hiking) sticks and just each other,” said Teresa Vance, of Bristol.
    Vance and her sister, Lisa Quesenberry of Covington, and friend Jamie Dickenson, also of Bristol, were section hiking from U.S. 60 to Crabtree Falls in Nelson County recently. They have spent the last two summers taking long hiking trips on much of the Appalachian Trail. Quesenberry and Dickenson both said they have self-defense training.
    “I would hike it by myself,” said Quesenberry, a conservation officer for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “I’ve not run into anyone that feels a danger, a threat to us. Everyone seems to be really nice, helpful, friendly.”
    Dickenson said they stay together and keep their eyes open. The recent events in southwestern Virginia did make her pause before heading out on this trip.
    “I’m going to be honest … I was uneasy this time,” Dickenson said. “But this is my enjoyment, and I thought, you know, I’m still going to come out and do it because this is what I like to do, so I’m not going to change.
    “I’m not going to let them take that away from me.”

  2. #2
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    San Diego, California, USA

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    Here's another example:

    Underfunded Wildlife Refuges Become Breeding Ground for Drugs, Prostitution,2933,357949,00.html

  3. #3
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    , Virginia, USA

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    My glock 19 and handheld 2 meter radio sure as hell don't weigh too much when my arse is out there....

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    Campaign Veteran Nelson_Muntz's Avatar
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    Manassas, Virginia, USA

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    Yup. Those two ounces of OC spray will just wear the bejesus outta you.

  5. #5
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    Huntsville, Alabama, USA

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    I always carry when I go hiking or camping unless I'm in a National Park (hopefully that rule change will go through soon).

    You never know when you'll run across some whack-job or weed farmer in the woods or a dangerous critter. Also makes for a good signaling device in a SHTF type situation.

  6. #6
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    Years ago the VA-WV-MD-PA state line crossings were filled with people being attacked and robbed. PA is still a rough area anywhere a road crossing is at. Right now in this area of WV-MD and VA the meth labs off of the trail are real bad.

    As for myself anyplace in the woods off the beaten path mainly if 4 wheelers can get into the area I do carry a battle rifle and plenty of ammo.

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