Hiker’s Writings Raise Concerns
West Hartford — When Stephen Arkwright and Kathy Manning entered the West Hartford Village Store yesterday, the store manager was ready with a page of notes, taken during a troubling phone call he had received that morning.
The facts: Someone walking along the Appalachian Trail had been leaving violent, sexually charged entries in the logbooks at hiker shelters. The entries were disturbing enough that word of them quickly traveled to trail organizations. The writer was most likely making his way through the Upper Valley.
But Arkwright and Manning, known in hiking parlance as “trail angels” because they have for more than three decades provided a place for hikers to stay when passing through the area, already had received an email about the journal entries before they came to the store. The synapses of the Upper Valley trail community had fired. Word had traveled quickly.
“This guy’s getting a lot of attention,” said Steve O’Connell, the store’s manager.
No one has come up with a physical description, a photo or a name for whoever is leaving the entries, but given the northbound progression of the log posts, the hiker in question would likely be in the area of Hartford, Hanover and Norwich over the weekend. A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service yesterday wouldn’t confirm whether the department has launched an investigation into the case.
On Thursday, Nichole Hastings, the Appalachian Trail Monitor Coordinator for the Dartmouth Outing Club, sent an email to various online message boards, urging people on and near the trail to be aware and conscientious. From there, the information spread to town offices, trail angels and places like the village store, which offers a row of hooks out front for hikers to hang their packs.
Hastings wrote that the hiker who saw the entries called the Green Mountain Club to report them was “concerned about ending up at a shelter with the person in question and potentially for his safety.”
For Hastings, that was worrisome.
“Thru-hikers are fairly open-minded people,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of eccentric characters when I’ve been out on the trail, and the fact that other thru-hikers are avoiding this person tells me that there’s something not right, and something to be concerned about.”
Arkwright and Manning live just feet from the West Hartford store. In 35 years of welcoming hikers into their home, they too have met their share of colorful individuals: three 30-something engineers; the German hitchhiker who, after not getting picked up, decided to hike to his destination of New York; the former football linebacker who had lost 120 pounds walking between Georgia and Vermont. They’ve also met more than one criminal attempting to lay low.
Arkwright said there’s usually one hiker per year with worrisome behavior. To him, this most recent case is “not unusual.”
Still, Upper Valley towns that are home to the trail are on alert. In her email, Hastings encouraged anyone who encounters a suspicious hiker to contact the Dartmouth Outing Club or Green Mountain Club. And Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said a list of names and phone numbers for local trail angels was taken down from a bulletin board for the weekend.
“It’s not unreasonable to assume he’d be in town today or over the weekend,” Griffin said yesterday.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.