PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An ultramarathoner whose celebration atop Maine's Mount Katahdin struck a nerve with park officials who are worried about crowding and commercialization of the Appalachian Trail paid a $500 fine on Wednesday to settle the matter.
Scott Jurek got into trouble with park rangers when he popped a bottle of bubbly while surrounded by a large group of supporters in July after setting a speed record for completion of the 2,189-mile footpath from Georgia to Maine. A ranger later cited him for public drinking, littering and hiking in an oversized group.
A district judge in Millinocket signed off Wednesday on an agreement between his lawyer and the district attorney in which Jurek paid a fine for public drinking. The other citations were dropped.
Walter McKee, Jurek's attorney, said the Baxter Park Authority tried to make an example out of Jurek to other hikers, dragging the Colorado runner into a larger issue that has nothing to do with him.
"He always acknowledged that he had consumed alcohol at the top of Mount Katahdin, not unlike many others have done. But nonetheless, he did it and he accepted responsibility," McKee said.
The growing number of hikers on the Appalachian Trail has become a management problem at Baxter, which operates under strict rules to maintain the vision of the park's donor. Park officials were concerned that Jurek's corporate sponsorship, throngs of supporters and celebration took away from the wilderness experience.
The late Percival Baxter donated the land with the understanding that it'd be managed in line with his vision of "forever wild" with no hunting, lumbering, hotels, advertising or "trappings of unpleasant civilization."
Jensen Bissell, director of the Baxter State Park Authority, which manages the 100,000-acre park that includes Katahdin, has warned that the trail's northern terminus may need to be moved if things don't change.
But he hopes that there can be an agreement with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and National Park Service to limit the number of people using the trail. The Baxter Park Authority will be meeting later this fall, he said, and it's likely that the authority will try to set a timeframe for coming up with a workable solution.
McKee maintains the situation with Jurek was blown out of proportion and said "thru hikers" — those who're hiking the trail from start to finish — account for only a fraction of hikers on Mount Katahdin.
He also said it's a good thing that more people in an increasingly sedentary society want to get outdoors.
"Part of Percival Baxter's legacy was that people should be enjoying the park, getting outside and being part of the outdoors that he so dearly loved," McKee said.
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