Washington County VA

Hikers offer advice on how to stay safe on the Appalachian Trail

DAMASCUS, Va. - It hasn't been an easy journey for the Appalachian Trail hikers coming into Damascus for Trail Days. They've faced bad weather, poor health, and sometimes worse.

Volunteers with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy told us the trail is safer than a city but with millions of people hiking it each year, it's not immune to crime.

"It's a balance of really trusting people and knowing when you need to stick up for yourself and do what you need to do to stay safe," said a hiker, who's trail name is Bo.

She told us she's learned this lesson over the past few months after an encounter while hiking alone.

"Someone in a pickup truck pulled up, and it's not unusual to stop and talk to strangers cause everyone is sort of a stranger on the trail, so we were chatting for a while, talking about the hike," Bo said.

She told us the man started pressuring her to come back to town with him, eventually swearing and spitting on her before speeding away.

Bo said acting like she had group members right behind her kept her from being harmed.

"You just have to be aware of your surroundings, always make it seem like you're with a whole lot of really strong, tough people," she said.

Bo did the right thing, according to the National Park Service.

The National Park Service also suggests avoiding posting your current location online, don't linger near roads or trail heads, don't leave money or credit cards in your pack, let family and friends know what your hiking plans are, and carry up-to-date maps.

They do not suggest carrying firearms on the trail because "the threat of firearms being turned against you or an accidental shooting outweigh the benefits," according to the National Park Service's website.

Terry Coyle, who has hiked the trail two full times, told us other hikers tend to avoid those who carry weapons.

"Everybody will kind of shun them until they get smart enough to leave them at home," Coyle said.

He told us the communities along the trail help keep it safe.

"If something happened, word would get up and down the trail and the business owners and people like that will be looking and watching," he said.

Coyle told us even after six more attempts at the trail he's never experienced crime.

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