Last July the U.S. Postal Service announced that they would be conducting a study to determine the need for some 3700 retail post offices. Potentially, the USPS was prepared to eliminate more than 10% of all their post offices around the country. Most of these closings were likely to occur in rural areas, such as those found along the Appalachian Trail.
This decision would have a significant impact on long-distance hikers. Appalachian Trail 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.
As for now, however, rural post offices have received a stay of execution. The USPS recently made this announcement on their website:
The U.S. Postal Service, in response to a request made by multiple U.S. Senators, has agreed to delay the closing or consolidation of any Post Office or mail processing facility until May 15, 2012. The Postal Service will continue all necessary steps required for the review of these facilities during the interim period, including public input meetings.
The Postal Service hopes this period will help facilitate the enactment of comprehensive postal legislation. Given the Postal Service’s financial situation and the loss of mail volume, the Postal Service must continue to take all steps necessary to reduce costs and increase revenue.
This is partial good news for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Most northbound hikers will have already made it through the Smokies by the time that deadline rolls around. At least up until that point they'll be able use the postal service for their supply drops.
As I mentioned in a posting back in July, I believe the private sector will step-in and continue to offer re-supply services to hikers in the event of any closures. However, things might be a bit confusing for hikers already on the trail this year.