A sign marks the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and a side trail that leads to a parking area for a day hike to Little Wilson Falls. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Hikers are being told by the agency that oversees the Appalachian Trail to postpone plans to cover the nearly 2,200-mile distance this year due to COVID-19.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy made the suggestion because it feels the pandemic makes long-distance hikes unsafe, the Asheville Citizen Times reported Monday.

Morgan Sommerville, regional director for the conservancy, said that as long as the pandemic continues, while vaccines aren’t widely available and there’s been no all-clear signs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the conservancy is recommending against long-distance hikes.

Sommerville said some 2,000 thru-hikers have already registered. Those hikers come through the 71 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and reach western North Carolina trail towns like Franklin and Hot Springs, in March and April, when they gather in large numbers to rest, mend gear and resupply.

They also stay at shelters in close quarters along the trail. The shelters don’t allow for the CDC’s COVID-safety guidelines, which include maintaining social distance of at least 6 feet from those who don’t live in the same household and washing hands often with soap and water.

The Appalachian Trail runs through 14 states from Georgia to Maine and covers 2,193 miles.