The professional athlete who completed the entire Appalachian Trail in record-setting time paid a $500 fine Wednesday for drinking alcohol atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin in July, an incident that prompted a broader debate about hikers’ behavior in Baxter State Park.

An attorney for Scott Jurek said his client agreed to pay the fine because he did pop open a bottle of champagne atop Maine’s highest peak in violation of Baxter State Park’s no-alcohol policy after his 46-day run ended July 12. But as part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped charges of littering and hiking with an oversized group, two citations that Jurek has fought ever since park officials disclosed them in a stinging rebuke of Jurek posted on social media.

“He did consume alcohol on Mount Katahdin and he accepts responsibility for that,” Jurek’s attorney, Walter McKee, said by phone after a hearing Wednesday in Penobscot County District Court in Millinocket. “He didn’t litter and didn’t hike with too large a group, so he was not going to accept” those charges, McKee said.

The judge did not require the Colorado resident to attend the hearing on the civil offenses. But Jurek repeated his contention Wednesday afternoon that Baxter officials tried to use his accomplishment to call attention to larger concerns about AT hikers in the park. He called the littering and oversize group charges “false accusations” and, in turn, accused Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell of tarnishing his image and reputation.

“I’m deeply disappointed with how the whole thing was handled overall,” Jurek said in an interview. “This could have all been avoided if it had been handled in a professional manner but, instead, he used me to benefit himself and benefit the park.”

PATH TO RAISE BROADER PROBLEMS

The charges against Jurek – a professional athlete and author – and the resulting backlash did bring national attention to tensions between Baxter State Park officials and the overseers of the Appalachian Trail. For the past several years, Baxter officials have expressed concerns about the strain on park resources posed by AT hikers – especially the “thru-hikers” trekking the entire 2,185-mile trail – who are entering the park to summit Mount Katahdin, the trail’s northern terminus.

Bissell has warned repeatedly that the Appalachian Trail may have to find a new northern terminus unless the park’s concerns are addressed. Those concerns include thru-hikers drinking alcohol or smoking pot on the summit, camping in unauthorized areas, hiking in groups larger than 12, trying to bring dogs into the park and flouting other park rules. As a result, groups involved with the AT have met to discuss ways to address the issue.

In a Facebook post after Jurek completed his run, Bissell suggested that the athlete had brought a corporate-sponsored event to Maine’s wilderness park – an accusation Jurek strongly disputed – even as he raised the issue of increasing pressure on the park from AT thru-hikers. Bissell has maintained that, under the clear mandate left by the late Gov. Percival P. Baxter, the park’s creator and namesake, park officials’ first responsibility is to protect Baxter’s natural resources. Providing recreational opportunities comes second.

“These ‘corporate events’ have no place in the park and are incongruous with the park’s mission of resource protection, the appreciation of nature and the respect of the experience of others in the park,” Bissell wrote in his post, which garnered more than 950 comments. “We hope for the support of the AT and BSP communities to help us steer these events to more appropriate venues in the future.”

PROTECTING HISTORIC RELATIONSHIP

Heightening the concerns raised by Bissell and other park managers along the AT, more people are expected to flock to the trail as a result of the release this month of the movie “A Walk in the Woods,” starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. The movie is an adaptation of the best-selling book of the same name in which humorist author Bill Bryson chronicled his failed attempt to thru-hike the AT. The trail saw a spike in users after the book was published in 1998.

Although few people expect the trail’s northern terminus to be moved off of Mount Katahdin, the prospect has generated media coverage in Maine and nationally because of the AT’s reputation among hikers globally and Katahdin’s historic relationship with the trail. Although Percival Baxter never mentioned the AT in the detailed “deeds of trust” he left to guide the park, one of the men responsible for stitching together the trail between Georgia and Maine, Lubec native Myron Avery, was determined to end the trail atop Katahdin.

Representatives of the various groups involved with the AT – including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and Millinocket-area business owners – met in July and are expected to meet again this fall to discuss ways to address the issues identified by Baxter officials. The organizations also have launched a public outreach campaign to improve education of AT hikers about respectful behavior all along the trail.

TEMPERED END TO ACCOMPLISHMENT

As part of the upcoming movie release, Redford filmed a public service announcement urging AT users “to respect and protect the trail and all of our national parks by learning and employing ‘leave no trace’ policies to minimize impacts.”

Bissell said the talks are continuing.

“We are satisfied with the outcome of the Jurek summons,” Bissell wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon. “We will continue to work with the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and the NPS (National Park Service) to address concerns about the growing impacts of AT hikers in the Baxter State Park.”

For his part, Jurek said he was unaware of the champagne until it was handed to him at the summit, and that the acquaintance who brought it was told beforehand by park rangers to simply keep it away from children and families. Photos of the mountaintop celebration show Jurek holding the opened bottle up in the air near the iconic Katahdin sign, with others watching as champagne sprays into the air.

“As I’ve read more about Percival Baxter … I think he would have been pleased with my AT adventure and summit up Katahdin, and I think he would have even congratulated me on my accomplishment,” Jurek said.

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