I posted recently about some observations I’d made regarding the sociology of outdoor recreation and hiker diversity. While I don’t feel I was wrong about anything I said, I did feel that I should’ve given the Appalachian Trail Conservancy a chance to defend themselves. So, I reached out to them to see if I could dig into the statistics but also brought up my issue of the website recommending to “Dress conservatively to avoid unwanted attention.” I shared the link to my blog post to hopefully ensure them that it wasn’t just a blind criticism against them but that I was actually trying to be constructive. It worked! It has since been deleted and will hopefully be replaced with something better soon. One hundred points to Gryffindor! I got a reply from ATC’s Information Services Manager, Laurie Potteiger. She was open and honest. We had an excellent exchange of emails throughout the week and I’m even more excited to start my thru-hike. I know changing a single sentence on a website isn’t going to change the world but I feel pretty good about this tiny difference we made. Dear Karma, please take this into consideration before you decide to dump hail and/or lightning directly on my face when I’m hiking. Respectfully Yours, Cyndi Loppers.
Just to be clear, the following is part of an email with Laurie (shared with permission), and not an official statement from the ATC. That doesn’t make it any less awesome, though. :)
“You’re not the first person to give us a hard time about that “dress conservatively” language recently, which was recommended by law enforcement officers originally and defended as necessary by those with a deep knowledge of incidents along the A.T. when we discussed it just a year or so ago. Our goal was to alert hikers that there are communities in which residents have very different cultural norms. What might be viewed as simply freedom of expression in urban areas or on the very accepting culture of the A.T. itself can be viewed completely different in very conservative communities on the A.T., or by an individual hiker on the A.T. with extreme views. But I completely realize how inappropriate, offensive and unhelpful that sentence can be viewed, and it really doesn’t convey what we are trying to say. It’s simply not defensible any longer. I’ve deleted it until we can find a more helpful and appropriate way to say it.” — Laurie Potteiger
As far as hiker diversity goes, she gave me some stats that reaffirmed what I’d been thinking. Among 2,000-milers on the Appalachian Trail (both section and thru-hikers), only about 25% are women. It’s a number that’s growing but very slowly. African-Americans make up less than 1%. The percentage of other ethnic groups isn’t much better, with no one group accounting for more than 5%. I hike in Texas so I don’t really have a frame of reference for the A.T. I knew the numbers would be low but wow that seems really low! Some good news is that out of the 840 people who have signed up for the voluntary registration, 10 of them have identified themselves as “Asian” so I won’t be the only one. Except one of those 10 was me, but still! Due to terminology factors and the ethnicity field being optional, it may be more than that.
I have no idea what I’m doing after my thru-hike but more and more it looks like I want to get into some area of outdoor education. Unfortunately it might involve a little more education of my own since I don’t think my current medical imaging degree is all that useful in the wilderness. But that’s 2,189 miles away and I’ve got plenty of time to think about it.