The Arizona Trail is open, but should thru-hikers make the journey?

Arizona Daily Sun (March 24, 2020) by Sam McManis

Outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking and running and mountain biking, remain unaffected by the civic restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak. That’s provided, of course, that people maintain proper social-distancing protocols. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Health, says he still runs each morning.

But what about those hardcore souls who, traditionally in the spring, come from all over the country to take on the 800-mile Arizona Trail in an epic thru-hike?

Cities positioned along the trail, such as Flagstaff, have in recent years seen an economic boon as the popularity of thru-hiking spreads. But now with restaurants and bars closed, and the kindness of “trail angels” who support the hikers by providing water, food and a bed have been seriously curtailed, it raises the question of whether it is wise, or even feasible, to attempt a thru-hike in days such as this.

The Arizona Trail remains open for all users, though state and federal officials advise people not recreate in groups greater than 10. Matthew Nelson, executive director of the Arizona Trail Association, said he has not heard talk of restricting access. The trails runs through many jurisdictions — Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Arizona State Parks and county- and city-owned lands — but it is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

“I have been in contact with leaders from all of America’s National Scenic Trails, along with land management agency representatives in the Washington office, and there are no rumblings about trail closures,” Nelson said in an email interview. “On the contrary, we are anticipating a spike in trail visitation. The greatest concern I’ve heard — other than the trail shelters on the Appalachian Trail being potential hubs for coronavirus transmission — is the lack of normal services for thru-hikers.”

Indeed, logistical concerns might end up being what dissuades potential thru-hikers from tackling the trail, which runs from the Mexican border on the southern end to its northern terminus at the Utah state line.

Nelson has posted a warning to thru-hikers that some of the support they might usually receive along the way cannot be counted on this spring and summer if the extraordinary measure implemented because of the virus continues.

On the one hand, Nelson acknowledges that hikers are “probably in one of the safest places imaginable” to avoid contracting COVID-19. Yet, he detailed that hikers should expect to see widespread “closed signs” on stores and restaurants in “gateway communities” (on which, Flagstaff is one of the largest) and warned that hikers should “forget about ever being able to find toilet paper for sale or available at public toilets.”

To read the rest of the article, click here.