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Have a Backup Plan (For Shutdowns, etc)

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October 11, 2013
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HaveBackupPlan blogEach autumn, the wife and I round up our two kids, now in their twenties, and head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since the kids were young, we laced up our hiking boats and hit a trail or two and took in the fall foliage show that the Smokies are famous for. This year, our plans had a stick poked into the spokes. At the moment, the park is closed because of a U.S. Government shutdown. As most Americans, I have strong opinions on the entire messy situation. But, my focus is to take advantage of the time the kids allowed their mother to have them for another adventure. Time with them is tough to obtain, because of their individual, adult lives have begun to compile commitments. So, shall we cancel our trip to the Smokies or go to a Plan B?

Wise hikers, campers and backpackers are known for maintaining thorough packing lists and spending hours on planning the next trip. Efficient hiking boots and well-equipped packs are obvious planning points. Proper maps and orienteering strategies are also normally handled carefully. But devoting planning time toward a backup plan in case a targeted trail is closed for whatever reason, either regulations or weather, is often overlooked.

If ample time allows ahead of the trip date, to select a second choice is not so bad, but with only a week or couple days notice, or even worse, finding out a trail is closed when you arrive at the trailhead, can be a trip canceler. So having a Plan B from the start will ensure time is not lost to a closer. A trail near the planned one is a great option, but not always a possibility. The Smokies holds nearly 1,000 miles of hiking trails, but at the moment, they are all off limits. So a trail in a nearby state park will keep my family fall trip on schedule.

No matter which trail or property you plan to hike, it's good practice to contact the land managers to inquire about possible permits and regulations. Just because a specific trail has never required a permit in the past, doesn't mean it still doesn't. Regulations can change quickly and with little notice, caused by trail condition changes caused by weather or overuse. The same land managers may offer a second trail choice for a Plan B or simply to add to the Trail To-Do List.

Trip planning is actually fun, in my opinion. Facts of the trail's home ground are revealed during the planning process that enhances the hiking experience. But learning the trail is now off limits is a bummer, but that would be even more so if a backup plan was not in place before hand. So as you plan your next hike, keep an eye out for a second trail in the area. Besides, discovering a new trail or park is always a pleasant surprise. Actually, the second option may become the first.

Robert Loewendick

Robert Loewendick is a freelance outdoor writer and guidebook author with work regularly published in magazines, newspapers and websites, both in the U.S. and in Canada. Spending days and nights surrounded by the natural world is not a hobby, but instead a lifestyle for Loewendick. Whether fly-fishing a mountain stream or cruising a Great Lake for angling adventures, hiking miles of tame trails or wild ones, paddling calm lakes or running rapids, Loewendick's days outdoors regularly end at a campsite. His award-winning writing has earned him active memberships in Outdoor Writers Association of America and Outdoor Writers of Ohio. 

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