ROANOKE, Va. – Step by step, Massachusetts native Paul Erhard is making the nearly 2,200-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail.
“One foot in front of the other,” said Erhard, who passed through Roanoke on Wednesday. “I started down in Springer Mountain and just basically walking home.”
But along the way, the picturesque scenery is tarnished by graffiti.
Signs, shelters, benches and walkways are sometimes covered in it.
“I actually found somebody actually writing. They came up and started writing graffiti while we were there,” said Erhard.
Andrew Downs, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s senior regional director in the south, said there have been multiple recent reports of graffiti: mile markers spray-painted on trees and rocks.
“Graffiti on the trail I think, in all its forms, is a massive problem. Everything from people spray-painting big rocks with Greek letters,” said Downs. “Down to people with Sharpies writing on trail signs.”
He said some graffiti is well-intentioned, others not so much.
“It’s kind of upsetting that people are doing that. Just defacing parts of such a beautiful area,” said Radford native Nathan Tallant who loves to hike McAfee Knob.
On the Appalachian Trail, white trail blazes are the official markers. The trees they are painted on are specifically chosen to minimize the environmental impact. Graffiti can be expensive and time-consuming for volunteers to clean up.
“Volunteers that help maintain the trails and maintain the different shelters that they provide, which are essential, put a lot of effort into this and you’re kind of disrespecting them,” said Erhard.
The time they spend cleaning up means time not spent maintaining and improving the trail.
“Another graffiti burden on them keeps them from doing the really fun stuff of trail work, which is like building steps and really laying out the trail in a way that is most scenic and most attractive to hikers,” said Downs.
He recommends that thru-hikers use sticks or rocks to mark the milestones because they won’t hurt the environment or negatively impact the experience of other hikers on the trail.
“To have this kind of resource here, we’re very lucky and we shouldn’t take it for granted,” said Erhard.