Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Fallout Over Scott Jurek's Record-Setting Appalachian Trail Run

Earlier in the summer ultra-runner Scott Jurek set a new record for completing the Appalachian Trail end-to-end, finishing on Mt. Katahdin in Maine in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. That was an impressive accomplishment to say the least, but if you've been following this story at all, you already know that Jurek hasn't truly been able to celebrate his record thanks to legal issues brought on by overzealous rangers in Baxter State Park, the terminus of the northern end of the AT. Those issues were resolved last week, but they continue to cast a shadow over the whole affair.

As the story goes, when Scott arrived at the finish line on the final day of his hike he was not only greeted by a group of friends and supporters, he popped a bottle of champaign to celebrate the completion of the AT and a new record being set. Seems innocent enough right? Well, as it turns out a ranger in Baxter State Park witnessed the celebration and fined Jurek for littering because some of the champaign spilled on the ground. He was also cited for having too large of a hiking group because the 16 people on hand to welcome him exceeded the 12 person limit. It is also illegal to drink in the park too, which was also added to the list of offenses.

Last week, Jurek finally put an end to the legal nonsense by agreeing to pay a $500 fine for drinking – which Outside points out is $300 more than usual – while the other charges were dropped. He and Park Director Jensen Bissell had been waging a war of words on the Internet as well, with Bissell saying Jurek's record-setting run was nothing more than big publicity stunt, while the ultra-runner fired back for being singled out due to his high profile. In the two months since the completion of the AT, the entire thing turned into a nasty affair.

Worse yet, the park officials are now threatening to reroute the AT off of Mt. Katahdin. They say that excessive numbers of people finishing the AT, and celebrating in similar fashion, are threatening the environment there. This has of course angered trail purists who have seen the summit of that mountain as an important point on the Appalachian Trail for decades. To many, changing the route would be unthinkable.


For his part, Jurek is just happy to finally be putting all of the controversy behind him. In an interview with Outside he discussed the impact that the situation has had on his life, as he received a lot of negative press and feedback from fans. He also indicated that he is likely done with competing in 100-mile races – something that was hinted at before the AT attempt – but that he hasn't finished doing what he calls "adventure runs." Scott says that while he won't do another run as long as the Appalachian Trail, he will be looking for other long-distance running challenges.

Personally, I have avoided writing about this topic because I thought it was all big farce. Sure, by the letter of the law, Scott and his team probably broke a few rules when celebrating his accomplishment, but typically I'd like to think that most people would have enough common sense to look the other way under these circumstances. It smacks of someone trying to capitalize on this high profile event. While it is true that Jurek and his welcoming committee drank a little champaign, they weren't doing so to get drunk. Citing him for having too large of a group, and for spilling some bubbly on the ground is just down right idiotic. I'm glad those legal issues are done, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail, allowing the AT to continue on its normal route. The entire thing has just been silly.

9 comments:

jowes said...

I think your final paragraph sums it up nicely.

Michael Jon Axl said...

I don't think it sums it up. I meet several of these park rangers on my hike this year on a part of the AP. they are relatively nice hard working guys. They don't always know who these Internet celebrities are. Day after day what they do see is young people in large numbers waking the trail. They have big parties at the campsites each night, and the celebrate in the same fashion as the guy in the story did, almost on a daily basis since the major hiking season started this year.

Like the park officials says, if these were occasional occurrences they wouldn't need to fine people. But simply by having an increase in hikers, regardless of them keeping as clean as possible, just by them walking on the trail in such massive numbers it hurts the environment. Trails are being worn down from over crowding, not to mention of the trail activity has spiked.

Even if we are all watchful of what we do, the slightest celebration were alcohol gets spilled on the ground every other day, a candy bar wrapper gets dumped on the ground by mistake, someone falls or accidentally destroys a well placed piece of wood can alter the trail dramatically over time.

So of we want to keep hiking these trails in numbers, there will be times that the trail will have to be re-routed. There will be people fined for even the smallest of infractions, because if we want it to stay beautiful, we have to be cautious.

Also lets be honest about these through hikers or runners. They only do the trail to gain some form of fame. Sure they love hiking but at the point you try breaking records, it's less about nature and more about the sport.

John Kay said...

Oh, let us be very clear about this; the Baxter Park rangers have had a very bad reputation with through hikers for at least a decade. When I heard it, I took it with a grain of salt. Many AT hikers are solidly anti-authoritarian. However, when I got to Baxter I had two interactions with two different Rangers and they were both notably horrible. I'm polite, I was 47 at the time ( so I wasn't treated with disrespect because I was some "kid", not that that would be ok). The first Ranger scoffed when I said I was going up Katahdin and would then be hiking out of the park. He said I wouldn't make it. I told him I had been hiking for 20+ miles a day for over 1000 miles. He laughed in a macho, angry way. I asked him if he though I was lying. He nodded yes, then insisted I check back in after coming down the mountain. I was confused, since I'm there at the station to check in. To me there was no need to check in twice in four hours. But he wanted to flex his muscle and rudely insisted. I told him firmly that I would indeed check in and would be out of his park before 6pm. Upon returning, there was another ranger. This ranger told me off for checking in a second time, even though I explained the other ranger insisted. Then, this new ranger said I wouldn't be out of the park by nightfall and had to pay an overnight fee. I reiterated I would be outside the park by 6 pm. He challenged me and threatened that if I didn't put my day receipt in the mailbox at the park boundary that they would be looking for me and raised his voice to emphasize that they would find me. So, once again, I said I would be out of the park by 6. The record-breaker's story is absolutely unsurprising, the rangers have earned their reputation as assholes.

David Balous said...

follow the rule s like the rest of us who use the trail

Grayson Cobb said...

Great summary. My experience with BSP officials has consistently been awful. I was disappointed, but not surprised in the least bit when they cracked down on Scott. I practically tip-toe through that park because of all the threats the rangers make.

www.graysoncobb.com

Tyler Jones said...

This reminds me of a gentleman I've heard of in the past. He goes by John Rambo. Very interesting how authority figures like to flex their muscles.

Dan R said...

I like that the last paragraph sums it up.... Haha. He says "It smacks of someone trying to capitalize on this high profile event. ". Yes you are right. It is Jurek! He is a professional sponsored athletic. Both he and his sponsors are capitalizing and the more publicity, negative or positive, this generates the bigger they both grow. Follow the rules. Hike for personal growth and satisfaction not financial gain and don't keep the turmoil rolling to increase their bank accounts. I can't wait to see what publicity he generates for himself and his sponsors when he does the PCT.....

Ron Dinwiddie said...

The very reason the AT exists, is awesome in itself. The park workers are only concerned professional advocates of the trail.
Continue to abuse the privelage,and we won't have it.
We must continue to increase our discipline and respect while enjoying the experience of a natural wonder,as demands are increased on the trail,accordingly.
Happy trails.

Adam Bradley said...

Scott Jureks AT escapades are lame on many levels. He only broke the womens record by 3 hours. He did so by never spending a night in the woods. He accomplished by having an RV follow him the entire way and meeting him at every road crossing. What about the pollution created by a vehicle following one person? Is it worth it? How did his behavior in BSP and on the trail qualify him for adventurer of the year? Hell Warren Doyle has done the trail 17 times by vehicle. Lastly, the DA appropriately fined Jurek for his actions.

http://bangordailynews.com/2015/09/11/outdoors/ultramarathoner-scott-jurek-slams-prosecutor-park-director-after-accepting-plea-deal/