Scott Jurek broke the speed record for a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on July 12, 2015. He traveled from Georgia to Maine in 46 days, 8 hours and a pocketful of minutes. The ultramarathoner ran and hiked and climbed the trail in the midst of a fairly significant media coverage. His assisted journey (aided by a team with a vehicle providing meals and lodging enabling a minimalist backpack with just water and food essentials) provided support for this incredible hike of 2,186 miles.
However, there was a disappointment waiting on the summit of Mount Katahdin, the finish line in Maine. He received three citations by the Baxter park rangers: Littering, consuming alcohol, and including a group of more than 12 hikers. The rules within Baxter State Park are rather rigid but well documented. Even on their website, the regulations are clear. Here are the specific statements regarding Scott’s violations:
2.1. The maximum size of hiking groups shall be 12 persons. Affiliated groups on the same trail separated by less than one mile shall be considered one group.
4.5. All trash, rubbish, litter, camping gear, equipment, and materials carried into the Park must be carried out of the Park. No trash, rubbish, or litter shall be deposited in any type of vaulted or un-vaulted toilet.
6.5. General laws of the State pertaining to alcohol and drugs apply within the Park. Maine law prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages in public places.
Scott Jurek got into trouble with park rangers when he popped a bottle of champagne while surrounded by a group of supporters in July after completing the 2,186 mile trail from Georgia to Maine in 46 days, eight hours. A ranger later cited him for public drinking, littering and hiking in an oversized group. This past Wednesday Scott paid a $500 fine to settle the citations over his celebration atop the summit of Mount Katahdin. A district judge in Millinocket validated an agreement between Scott’s lawyer and the district attorney in which Jurek paid a fine for public drinking. The other citations were dropped.
Formally, the summons issued to Jurek was for consuming alcohol within the park, hiking with a group larger than 12 people, and littering, which occurred when champagne sprayed into the air on the 5,268-foot summit hit the ground. But it was clear by the statements made by Baxter officials that it was much more than an issue of spilled champagne. Baxter Park Director Jensen Bissell said that Jurek and the corporate sponsorship that helped carry him to the record are anathema to the vision of the park set out by former governor Percival Baxter, whose 1931 donation of land and funding has made the park what it is today. Bissell lamented the commercialization of a natural resource. “Let’s be clear and concise, Scott Jurek’s physical abilities were recognized by corporations engaged in (selling) running and outdoor related products.” He continues in a Facebook post, “The race vehicle used to support Scott in his run, as well as Scott’s headband, clearly display these corporate sponsors. The sponsors are providing money and equipment to support Scott’s run in exchange for advertisement and engagement that they expect will protect or increase their market share and improve their profits. … When Scott arrived at Baxter Park to complete his run at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he brought all of this to Baxter Peak, in Maine’s largest wilderness.”
Jurek, who wasn’t in court, said afterward that he was unfairly singled out by park rangers to set an example for other hikers. Jurek claims rangers approved the size of his hiking party and allowed them to carry alcohol to the summit; these two matters were the basis of two of the three summons he received. Jurek said he registered with rangers at the base of the mountain, and they confirmed his group was within the allowable size. Jurek told Newswire the summons for littering came because of champagne spray. He said he was careful to pack out all of his trash, including the cork, before he hiked down. “Anybody who knows me knows the way I practice leave-no-trace ethics,” he said. “Of course I am not going to litter.” His wife and part of his support team throughout the adventure, Jenny, wrote. “How a person handles themselves in the darkest hours when nobody is looking speaks volumes. Scott carried out every scrap of trash, every square of used toilet paper, every wrapper he found on the trail that wasn’t his. Scott continually moved downed trees and branches that had fallen on the trail.”
High profile demands high scrutiny. No one cares too much about a hike that takes 152 days by a normal Joe. But an ultramarathoner attempting a speed record accompanied by national media coverage, gets the attention of many – fans and foes. For many AT officials, the thru-hike is not a sport, not a race, not a commercial event. Some fear that speed records will become the goal of many aspiring trail runners and with popularity come an invasion that might destroy serenity and wilderness.
Was Scott targeted as an example and watched carefully for violations? Probably. Alcohol on the big
brown sign is not uncommon. Google image “victory on Katahdin” and see how much bubbly you can find (Neither of these photos is Scott).
On the other hand, I am glad to see Scott pay his $500 fine (it could have been up to $1,000 per fine) and Baxter back off of two thirds of their complaints. It is sad that a great physical accomplishment was tarnished by the avoidable.
For more information on this story:
Photo of Scott Jurek receiving citations http://www.runnersworld.com/scott-jurek/scott-jurek-responds-to-personal-attacks-misinformation-surrounding-state-park-citations
Celebrating on Katadhin 1 http://appalachiantrials.com/celebrating-katahadin/
Celebrating on Katahdin 2 http://appalachiantrials.com/congratulations-weeks-appalachian-trail-thru-hikers-10/