Earlier in the week the U.S. Postal Service announced that they will be conducting a study over the next several months to determine the need for some 3700 retail post offices. Potentially, the USPS could eliminate more than 10% of all their post offices around the country. Most of these closings will likely occur in rural areas, such as those along the Appalachian Trail.
A.T. thru-hikers, and section hikers, use the services of post offices to forward, or pre-deliver, food, gear and other supplies as they proceed along the trail.
There has been much made in the press this week as to the consequences that will be felt by backpackers as a result of these potential closings. Many backpackers fear that it will become much more difficult to thru-hike trails like the A.T., or the Pacific Crest Trail, due to possibility of having to carry significantly more weight in their packs. But I would argue that this fear may be somewhat unfounded. I believe the private sector will likely step-in to fill the void left by many post office closures. It's not too hard to envision places like the Hike Inn at Fontana Dam, as an example, to take up the business of handling drop boxes for hikers. If there's a demand for a product or service, some hungry entrepreneur will jump at the opportunity to fill the need. The downside, of course, is that hikers may have to pay a little more since the federal government will no longer be subsidizing parts of the cost.
Speaking of higher costs for backpackers; does anyone have any thoughts, comments or concerns regarding Friday's announcement that the Great Smoky Mountains is considering a move to make all backcountry camping permits (for all sites) go through an online/call-in reservation service?
Do you have any problems paying the $2.25 to $10.00 fees that are being proposed to make a reservation for a backcountry campsite? In comparison, most other parks with similar backcountry operations charge between $10 and $30 per reservation, and many have additional per person or per night fees.
Given the avalanche of debt we currently find ourselves in, I have to believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Down the road, we're very likely to see parks find new and different ways of charging fees for services that have been free in the past.