The following is a guest post courtesy of Mark Hanf, co-creator of the The Appalachian Trail Game, October 6, 2015 in Thru-Hiking Culture
After Scott Jurek’s highly publicized, record setting hike and Robert Redford bringing A Walk in the Woods to the silver screen, the AT community is anticipating a wave of newly inspired, potential thru-hikers on the trail this year. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has been proactively planning to prepare for this surge in numbers. One of the unique responses that has emerged recently to the growing need for awareness about Leave No Trace practices is a fun board game that allows people to play and learn simultaneously. As one of the game’s designers, this project is close to my heart.
The Appalachian Trail Game started three years ago, when I crossed paths at a shelter with a teenager and his grandmother who had trashed the campsite. Plastic was burning in the fire, food was strewn in the woods, and trash was all over the ground. To be honest, my immediate reaction was anger.
I also noticed that the grandmother was in pain and holding her knee. It didn’t take long to realize that they were completely inexperienced hikers who had taken an extremely difficult route with far too much gear. Simply put, they didn’t know any better and I realized that I was taking for granted the training in low-impact camping and backpacking skills that I had growing up. I’m an Eagle Scout, and I could hear my leaders’ voices in my head saying, “pack it in, pack it out” and “leave every campsite better than you found it.” I offered to get water and help clean up the shelter. After talking with the grandmother about her injury, it was obvious that she needed to get off the trail, so I called for a shuttle at the next road crossing.
As I said goodbye to them and set out the next morning, a flood of ideas came rushing in about a board game that could help to teach the basic skills that would be essential to a safe, responsible, and ultimately enjoyable backpacking trip. What if this game was fun enough that people would want to play with their families and friends at home prior to coming out on the trail? The game could include basic first aid, plant and animal I.D. (including poisonous and medicinal varieties), essential gear items, navigation skills, and have a strong Leave No Trace ethic. It literally created itself as I walked.
Shortly thereafter, I received a small grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to create the prototype of the game. After beta testing with schools and scout troops, it was obvious that we had something special and needed to share it with a wider audience. A small team of talented educators, artists, conservationists and backpackers formed to turn that prototype into a fully realized product.