Crime on the trail is rare, but beware

June 05, 1998|By DON AINES

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Serious crimes are rare along the 2,160 miles of the Appalachian Trail between Georgia and Maine, but hikers, campers and day users should take precautions to avoid trouble.

Appalachian Trail Park Office Chief Ranger Robert W. Gray said Thursday that more than 3 million people use the trail each year. Those include people who hike the entire length of the trail, a trip that can take five or more months to complete.

"It has happened, but it's very rare," he said of crimes like the rape that was reported Wednesday on a section of the trail in Franklin County, Pa.

Pennsylvania State Police said a woman was raped while hiking alone in Michaux State Forest.

Brian King, director of public affairs for the Appalachian Trail Conference, a federation of groups that take care of the trail, said the chances of becoming the victim of a serious crime on the trail are about 1 in 20 million.


The National Park Service says hikers can take to following steps to protect themselves:

-- Never hike or camp alone. Numbers discourage criminals, but King said it is far more likely a hiker will become ill or injured and will need someone to summon help.

-- Let family and friends know your itinerary. That gives authorities an idea of where to search in an emergency.

-- Check in with family and friends periodically to let them know you are safe.

-- If a stranger makes you feel uneasy or is overly inquisitive, move on.

-- If you see people using alcohol or evidence of alcohol use at a shelter, "That's a good sign to move on to another campsite," Gray said.

-- Firearms are illegal on most parts of the trail, King said. "It won't do you any good if it's in your pack. If it's on your waist, it's a provocation," he said.

-- Victims or witnesses to crimes should report them immediately to the nearest authorities.

"In general, it's safe to say the trail is not regularly patroled by any law enforcement agency," King said.

He said the best advice is, "Trust your gut."

related story: Woman raped on Appalachian Trail

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