MARS HILL, North Carolina (WATE) — Restrictions on camping and hiking are now in effect for a popular hiking and camping trail in Pisgah National Forest due to overuse that officials say is causing serious damage to the wildlife habitat and creating a public safety hazard.
Camping is forbidden and hiking hours are restricted at Max Patch as of July 1. The restrictions are designed to reduce impacts to natural resources and protect public health and safety, officials said. Parks in the Southern Appalachian region are experiencing record-setting levels of visitors during the pandemic.
“We’ve been working with partners to achieve sustainable recreation at Max Patch because of the impacts due to a significant increase in visitors over the past decade,” said Appalachian District Ranger Jen Barnhart. “Unfortunately, the level of use is causing a public safety hazard as well as serious damage to wildlife habitat.”
Max Patch trailhead is about 90 minutes east of Gatlinburg on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. The trail connects with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is popular for its views of Mount Mitchell and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Effective July 1, the following rules apply to the area around Max Patch:
- No camping.
- No fires.
- Area closes 1 hour after sundown. Reopens 1 hour before sunrise. Visitors prohibited during closed hours.
- Group size limited to 10.
- Dogs and other animals must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet, or in a crate or cage.
- Stay on designated trails.
- Aircraft may not land nor drop off or pick up anything in this area. Drones are prohibited on Appalachian Trail.
- No fireworks.
- Bikes must stay on roads only.
- Horses and other saddle and pack animals may not be ridden, hitched, tethered, or hobbled in this area.
Park officials say the restrictions will be in effect for two years, during which time visitor use and impacts will continue to be monitored and addressed. Past efforts of visitor education and engineering controls such as barriers and fencing have not been sufficient to address the challenges. A visitor use monitoring group consisting of local partners, the USFS, and local community members has helped to develop solutions and will also help to educate visitors on the new restrictions.