The Appalachian Trail Index

On Tuesday, David checked in on some unconventional economic indicators from early in the recession, and while researching, another unusual indicator came to our attention - the Appalachian Trail Index.

The premise being that when the going gets tough, the tough go hiking.

The Wall Street Journal appeared to be the first to report on this "phenomenon" in an article from 2009, "Trailing Indicators: Out of a Job, Some Decide to Take a Hike":

Depending on one's level of optimism, an Appalachian Trail through-hiker is either a symbol of a jobless recovery or of a still-deepening recession.

So we called up the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to check in on the numbers, and spoke with their publisher, Brian King.

King said that yes, the number of people who report completing a thru-hike has been climbing since the start of the recession:

(Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

But he thinks the Appalachian Trail as a trailing, leading or even mildly informative indicator smacks of hooey:

Hiking 2200 miles for 5 or 6 months is not a cheap thrill, like, you know, sitting in the park feeding pigeons.

While he's dubious about the Appalachian Trail as a quality index, he did credit the Wall Street Journal article with one very specific economic fallout:

When that story came out, there was one fellow who was in that situation and using his unemployment check to pay for his hike. Well, he got busted.

To sum up: A down economy? Bad for pets, good for the Marines and unclear what it's done for the Appalachian Trail. But what we do know is that if you decide to finance your hike with unemployment insurance, you shouldn't brag about it in a major newspaper.

(Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

About the author

Amanda Aronczyk is a public radio reporter and producer.

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