A century after the Appalachian Trail was proposed, millions hike it every year seeking ‘the breath of a real life’


McAfee Knob in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, one of the Appalachian Trail’s most scenic vistas.
Ben Townsend/Flickr, CC BY

Charles C. Chester, Brandeis UniversityThe Appalachian Trail, North America’s most famous hiking route, stretches over 2,189 mountainous miles (3,520 kilometers) from Georgia to Maine. In any given year, some 3 million people hike on it, including more than 3,000 “thru-hikers” who go the entire distance, either in one stretch or in segments over multiple years.

The AT, as it’s widely known, is a national icon on a par with conservation touchstones like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser and the Florida Everglades. It symbolizes opportunity – the chance to set out on a life-altering experience in the great outdoors, or at least a pleasant walk in the woods.

Benton MacKaye, the classically trained forester who proposed creating the AT in 1921, saw it as a space where visitors could escape the stresses and rigors of modern industrial life. He also believed it could be a foundation for sound land-use patterns, with each section managed and cared for by local volunteers. MacKaye was a highly original thinker who called for protecting land on a continent-spanning scale and thought about how land use patterns could influence work and social relationships.

Sign shows distance to Maine and Georgia.
Halfway there, more or less: a trailhead in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Michel Curi/Flickr, CC BY

My research focuses on how people work together to promote large landscape conservation and to protect connectivity – physically linking patches of habitat, on land or at sea, so that animals and plants can move between them. MacKaye’s conception of the AT represents an early example of such comprehensive approaches to conservation.

An escape from industrial life

One hundred years ago, MacKaye laid out his vision for the AT in an article for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. At that time, progressive thinkers were conceptualizing and promoting the idea of regional planning at many different scales.

Had MacKaye focused solely on a physical trail, the editors probably would have rejected his manuscript. But MacKaye envisioned the AT as a connecting cord that would run through and define a natural and rural region. In his view, maintaining the undeveloped character of the land would only become more essential in the face of an encroaching East Coast metropolis. And because it lay in the eastern U.S., the trail would “serve as the breath of a real life for the toilers in the bee-hive cities along the Atlantic seaboard and beyond,” he wrote.

By 1925 MacKaye organized an Appalachian Trail Conference to build the footpath, which was completed in 1937. The first thru-hiker, a World War II veteran named Earl Shaffer, completed the full journey in 1948. Over the following decades, most of the practical work on the AT focused on tying together the thread of the trail itself – a challenging mission of acquiring access rights to myriad public and private lands.

Clips from an AT thru-hike, moving from south to north.

Maintaining the landscape around the AT in perpetuity is a bigger challenge. And climate change is making that issue more urgent, for the AT isn’t just a footpath for humans. It also provides two ways for plants and animals to shift their ranges in a changing world.

First, the trail offers a chance for wildlife and plants to move northward to cooler habitats on a warming planet. Second, species can also move up mountains to avoid warmer temperatures – and any thru-hiker has the blisters to prove that the AT has plenty of mountains.

More than a footpath

Beginning with MacKaye, many people over the past century have aspired to frame the AT as a platform for conservation at a regional scale – that is, extending far beyond the narrow trail corridor, which averages about 1,000 feet (300 meters) wide, or less than a quarter of a mile. One impetus is to provide a natural experience for hikers. Who wants to go exploring through exurban sprawl? Protecting land around the trail also expands spaces for plants and animals.

One of the best-known examples of large landscape approaches is the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, often referred to as Y2Y (I am the current chair of the Y2Y Council). Since the mid-1990s, this venture has striven to conserve habitat and rural working lands across a region that stretches some 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) north from the Greater Yellowstone region in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to Canada’s Yukon Territory.

As the Y2Y experience has shown, conserving large landscapes around the AT will not be easy or straightforward – but it is possible. MacKaye worried about urban and suburban encroachment – a threat that has only grown more severe over the past hundred years. “Pinch points” include the mid-Atlantic portion of the AT, but development threats are present all along the trail.

Conservation advocates have identified key spots along the AT where land around the trail could be protected from development to support wildlife by preserving it as open space. They include highlands in northern New Jersey and southern New York; forests and wetlands in Vermont and New Hampshire; and Maine’s North Woods.

Land trusts and conservation organizations from Georgia to Maine are working to protect wild lands along the length of the AT and increasingly are coordinating their efforts through the Appalachian Trail Landscape Partnership. This initiative includes more than 100 partners, led by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the U.S. National Park Service, which has managed the AT since the passage of the 1968 National Scenic Trails Act.

Footpath and barrier

Benton MacKaye hoped that the AT would be a symbolic and literal pathway toward solving social problems. His initial vision for the trail included community camps, covering up to 100 acres, that would grow out of trail shelters into small settlements where people could live year-round and pursue “nonindustrial” activities such as study and recuperation. Eventually, he envisioned more permanent camps that would offer the opportunity to move from cities back to the country and work cooperatively on the land, raising food and harvesting timber.

“The camp community … is in essence a retreat from profit. Cooperation replaces antagonism, trust replaces suspicion, emulation replaces competition,” MacKaye wrote.

MacKaye’s grand hopes may have been idealistic, but fulfilling the AT’s potential for large landscape conservation in some of the most populated regions of North America is still a worthy goal. As MacKaye presciently concluded in his 1921 article, “This trail could be made to be, in a very literal sense, a battle line against fire and flood – and even against disease.” A century later, I believe the time has come for MacKaye’s vision of the trail to flourish as a mutually supportive endeavor among people and nature in a changing world.

[Over 109,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]The Conversation

Charles C. Chester, Lecturer in Environmental Studies, Brandeis University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Don’t hike so close to me: How the presence of humans can disturb wildlife up to half a mile away


What are you looking at? Greg Shine, BLM/Flickr, CC BY

Jeremy Dertien, Clemson University ; Courtney Larson, University of Wyoming, and Sarah Reed, Colorado State University

Millions of Americans are traveling this summer as pandemic restrictions wind down. Rental bookings and crowds in national parks show that many people are headed for the great outdoors.

Seeing animals and birds is one of the main draws of spending time in nature. But as researchers who study conservation, wildlife and human impacts on wild places, we believe it’s important to know that you can have major effects on wildlife just by being nearby.

In a recent review of hundreds of studies covering many species, we found that the presence of humans can alter wild animal and bird behavior patterns at much greater distances than most people may think. Small mammals and birds may change their behavior when hikers or birders come within 300 feet (100 meters) – the length of a football field. Large birds like eagles and hawks can be affected when humans are over 1,300 feet (400 meters) away – roughly a quarter of a mile. And large mammals like elk and moose can be affected by humans up to 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) away – more than half a mile.

Elk viewed over a hiker's shoulder.
A hiker about 75 feet from a bull elk in Yellowstone National Park. Jacob W. Frank, NPS/Flickr

Many recent studies and reports have shown that the world is facing a biodiversity crisis. Over the past 50 years, Earth has lost so many species that many scientists believe the planet is experiencing its sixth mass extinction – due mainly to human activities.

Protected areas, from local open spaces to national parks, are vital for conserving plants and animals. They also are places where people like to spend time in nature. We believe that everyone who uses the outdoors should understand and respect this balance between outdoor recreation, sustainable use and conservation.

How human presence affects wildlife

Pandemic lockdowns in 2020 confined many people indoors – and wildlife responded. In Istanbul, dolphins ventured much closer to shore than usual. Penguins explored quiet South African Streets. Nubian ibex grazed on Israeli playgrounds. The fact that animals moved so freely without people present shows how wild species change their behavior in response to human activities.

Decades of research have shown that outdoor recreation, whether it’s hiking, cross-country skiing or riding all-terrain vehicles, has negative effects on wildlife. The most obvious signs are behavioral changes: Animals may flee from nearby people, decrease the time they feed and abandon nests or dens.

Other effects are harder to see, but can have serious consequences for animals’ health and survival. Wild animals that detect humans can experience physiological changes, such as increased heart rates and elevated levels of stress hormones.

And humans’ outdoor activities can degrade habitat that wild species depend on for food, shelter and reproduction. Human voices, off-leash dogs and campsite overuse all have harmful effects that make habitat unusable for many wild species.

Disturbing shorebirds can cause them to stop eating, stop feeding their young or flee their nests, leaving chicks vulnerable.

Effects of human presence vary for different species

For our study we examined 330 peer-reviewed articles spanning 38 years to locate thresholds at which recreation activities negatively affected wild animals and birds. The main thresholds we found were related to distances between wildlife and people or trails. But we also found other important factors, including the number of daily park visitors and the decibel levels of people’s conversations.

The studies that we reviewed covered over a dozen different types of motorized and nonmotorized recreation. While it might seem that motorized activities would have a bigger impact, some studies have found that dispersed “quiet” activities, such as day hiking, biking and wildlife viewing, can also affect which wild species will use a protected area.

Put another way, many species may be disturbed by humans nearby, even if those people are not using motorboats or all-terrain vehicles. It’s harder for animals to detect quiet humans, so there’s a better chance that they’ll be surprised by a cross-country skier than a snowmobile, for instance. In addition, some species that have been historically hunted are more likely to recognize – and flee from – a person walking than a person in a motorized vehicle.

Generally, larger animals need more distance, though the relationship is clearer for birds than mammals. We found that for birds, as bird size increased, so did the threshold distance. The smallest birds could tolerate humans within 65 feet (20 meters), while the largest birds had thresholds of roughly 2,000 feet (600 meters). Previous research has found a similar relationship. We did not find that this relationship existed as clearly for mammals.

We found little research on impact thresholds for amphibians and reptiles, such as lizards, frogs, turtles and snakes. A growing body of evidence shows that amphibians and reptiles are disturbed and negatively affected by recreation. So far, however, it’s unclear whether those effects reflect mainly the distance to people, the number of visitors or other factors.

Graphic showing distances at which human presence affects animals' behavior.
Human recreation starts to affect wild creatures’ behavior and physical state at different distances. Small mammals and birds tolerate closer recreation than do larger birds of prey and large mammals. Sarah Markes, CC BY-ND

How to reduce your impact on wildlife

While there’s much still to learn, we know enough to identify some simple actions people can take to minimize their impacts on wildlife. First, keep your distance. Although some species or individual animals will become used to human presence at close range, many others won’t. And it can be hard to tell when you are stressing an animal and potentially endangering both it and yourself.

Second, respect closed areas and stay on trails. For example, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, wildlife managers seasonally close some backcountry ski areas to protect critical habitat for bighorn sheep and reduce stress on other species like moose, elk and mule deer. And rangers in Maine’s Acadia National Park close several trails annually near peregrine falcon nests. This reduces stress to nesting birds and has helped this formerly endangered species recover.

 

 

 

Getting involved with educational or volunteer programs is a great way to learn about wildlife and help maintain undisturbed areas. As our research shows, balancing recreation with conservation means opening some areas to human use and keeping others entirely or mostly undisturbed.

As development fragments wild habitat and climate change forces many species to shift their ranges, movement corridors between protected areas become even more important. Our research suggests that creating recreation-free wildlife corridors of at least 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) wide can enable most species to move between protected areas without disturbance. Seeing wildlife can be part of a fun outdoor experience – but for the animals’ sake, you may need binoculars or a zoom lens for your camera.

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Jeremy Dertien, PhD Candidate in Forestry and Environmental Conservation, Clemson University ; Courtney Larson, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Wyoming, and Sarah Reed, Affiliate Faculty in Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If you’re planning to hike this winter, invest in the right gear. Being unprepared for Australia’s harsh terrain can be deadly


Vanessa Adams, University of Tasmania; Jason Byrne, University of Tasmania, and Noelle Nemeth, University of TasmaniaTwo years ago, emergency workers rescued a hiker in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. He had spent nine days in his tent in freezing weather with dangerous blizzards, trying to keep dry from infiltrating snow and rain.

Because he was an experienced and prepared hiker, he had the skills and gear needed to keep himself safe and relatively warm until rescuers could find him. His preparedness ultimately led to his survival.

Such experiences, however, don’t always have happy endings.

Of the hikers, trekkers and bushwalkers who need rescuing from Australia’s harsh wilderness each year, a small proportion never make it back alive. And as we head into winter, the likelihood of accidents increases, especially in places like Tasmania.

Our recent research on hikers in Tasmania shows just how important preparedness is to prevent injuries and deaths. So let’s look at what it means to be prepared for a hike and who’s most at risk.

Slips, drops, hypothermia

Tasmania is quickly becoming known worldwide as a hiking destination, with Cradle Mountain National Park the crown jewel, from short two-hour walks to the multi-day Overland track.

In 2017-18, an estimated 280,000 people visited Cradle Mountain, and 9,000 hikers completed the Overland track between October and May.

Two hikers on a grassland trail
The Tassie wilderness provides awe-inspiring but physically demanding hikes for visitors.
Noelle Nemeth, Author provided

But in winter, Tasmania’s weather conditions can change rapidly, particularly in alpine areas that draw people in with the promise of snow-capped mountains. One hour it can be clear and sunny. The next, bad weather can worsen into a blizzard.

The island’s sometimes severe weather means risks are amplified. These can include getting lost, running out of food or water while sheltering, and having an accident such as falling from steep and slippery terrain.




Read more:
Photos from the field: capturing the grandeur and heartbreak of Tasmania’s giant trees


Across Tasmania, bushwalker rescues fluctuate substantially by year, from lows of six (2018) to highs of 44 (2019).

Of the recent hiker deaths in Tasmania, some have been due to falls from great heights, while others are attributed to a lack of preparation and appropriate gear causing hypothermia.

Hypothermia is life threatening. This video explains how you can be prepared in Tasmania’s parks and reserves.

For park management agencies, rescuing injured hikers or recovering the deceased can be dangerous and expensive. Estimated rescue costs range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per incident.

At times, bad weather conditions means rescue agencies can’t access sites. They have to make the challenging decision not to respond to rescue calls, to protect the lives of volunteers and rescue staff.

What is preparedness and why does it matter?

Preparedness is about providing yourself with the necessary resources to safely tackle unexpected issues that may arise.

How prepared you are can be the difference between severe injury or death, and survival. We define preparedness as the process of:

  • packing essential clothing and equipment
  • conducting pre-planning and familiarisation with a destination (what are the weather conditions, or trail conditions like?)
  • self-assessment of capabilities (what’s your fitness level, and what are your wilderness knowledge and skills like?)
  • notifying others about your travel intentions.
Hiking boots overlooking a lake in Cradle Mountain
Wearing the right shoes on your next hike can save your life.
Shutterstock

Some hikers are better prepared than others

Our research surveyed overnight hikers in Tasmania. And we found a lack of preparedness is related to people’s backgrounds (such as age and sex) and behavioural traits (such as risk taking).

Young men, for example, appear more likely to take risks, overestimating their skills and experience. Some tourist groups, who are unfamiliar with local weather conditions and landscapes, are also at higher risk.

In many accidents, inadequate clothing or footwear is a culprit, such as lack of woollen base layers, hats and gloves, and waterproof outer layers. This can result in hypothermia, frostbite, falls and other major problems.




Read more:
We accidentally found a whole new genus of Australian daisies. You’ve probably seen them on your bushwalks


We were surprised by what many hikers didn’t carry, including maps, compasses, whistles, and first aid kits — essential items for all hikers. Some told us they didn’t own that equipment, others thought it was unnecessary.

People in a tour group were less likely to carry food, a first aid kit and safety items, believing their guide would carry it for them. But if group members become separated, the consequences can be fatal.

Hiker beside an orange tent
Maps, compasses, whistles and first aid kits are essential on every hike.
Shutterstock

Our research also suggests hikers out for day trips or shorter walks, appear to feel there’s less risk and seem less prepared than if they were doing a longer trip.

They’re unlikely to take an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon (PLB), which can send a distress signal and alert rescuers to your location in places with no phone reception. They may also wear sport shoes instead of hiking boots, and some don’t carry essential items for winter walking, such as a waterproof jacket or tent.

Being prepared with the right gear and experience is important regardless of how long you plan on being out. The reality is weather conditions can change suddenly, even if you’re not out for very long.

So how can you be better prepared?

In response to past hiker deaths, coronial inquests have identified better education, improved visitor management and safety measures as possible solutions.

But we’ve also identified a simple, but likely effective solution that could supplement a continued lack of appropriate gear: the use of a “gear library”.

A gear library would be set up at visitor centres where you’re usually expected to start hikes and would allow people to hire speciality gear items, such as personal safety devices (EPIRB, PLB). These can usually cost more than $200, but would be substantially cheaper in a gear library, ensuring rescue workers are notified and can find you after an accident.




Read more:
Stick to the path, and stay alive in national parks this summer


It’s also important to keep a checklist to pack essential items. Some key items include:

  • adequate supply of food and water, including contingency items for unexpected additional days hiking because of bad weather
  • warm clothes, such as a waterproof jacket with hood and storm front, waterproof over-trousers, sturdy walking boots and warm clothing (a fleece or woollen jumper, thermal base layers, hat and gloves)
  • appropriate footwear, such as hiking boots
  • a tent for overnight hikes
  • a first aid kit
  • a torch.

There are plenty of resources for people seeking information about how best to prepare for their bushwalk, including national park visitor centres, Westpac Rescue Tas and the Parks and Wildlife Tasmania website. These websites provide essential bushwalking guides on what to pack and how to prepare for bushwalking.

Anyone can safely enjoy a good day out in the Tasmanian wilderness — it’s beautiful, but can also be deadly. You can never be too prepared.




Read more:
Good signage in national parks can save lives. Here’s how to do it right


The Conversation


Vanessa Adams, Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania; Jason Byrne, Professor of Human Geography and Planning, University of Tasmania, and Noelle Nemeth, Master’s Research Student, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Discovering New Flowering Plants Species While Bushwalking in Australia


The link below is to an article that looks at discovering new flowering plant species while bushwalking in Australia.

For more visit:
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2020/09/find-new-species-of-daisies-on-your-aussie-bushwalks/

What ‘Walden’ can tell us about social distancing and focusing on life’s essentials



Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.
ptwo/Wikipedia, CC BY

Robert M. Thorson, University of Connecticut

Seeking to bend the coronavirus curve, governors and mayors have told millions of Americans to stay home. If you’re pondering what to read, it’s easy to find lists featuring books about disease outbreaks, solitude and living a simpler life. But it’s much harder to find a book that combines these themes.

As the author of three books about essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, I highly recommend “Walden,” Thoreau’s 1854 account of his time living “alone” in the woods outside Concord, Massachusetts. I qualify “alone” because Thoreau had more company at Walden than in town, and hoed a bean field daily as social theater in full view of passersby on the road.

Published in over 1,000 editions and translated into scores of languages, “Walden” is the scriptural fountainhead of the modern environmental movement, a philosophical treatise on self-reliance and a salient volume of the American literary canon. In his introduction to the Princeton edition, John Updike claims that Thoreau’s masterpiece “contributed most to America’s present sense of itself” during the cultural renaissance of the mid-19th century, yet “risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.”

Another reason to read or reread “Walden” during trying times is that it gushes with sorely needed optimism and is laced with wit. And Thoreau befriends you by writing in the first person.

Reality lies within us

Henry David Thoreau, 1856.
National Portrait Gallery/Wikipedia

As governments mandate social distancing to protect public health, many readers may be coming to grips with solitude. Thoreau devotes a chapter to it, extolling the virtue of getting to know yourself really well.

“Why should I feel lonely?” he asks, “is not our planet in the Milky Way?” Elsewhere he clarifies the difference between what we need and what we think we need, writing, “My greatest skill has been to want but little.”

“Walden” doesn’t have to be read straight through like a novel. For readers who have previously given up on it, I suggest rebooting in the middle with “The Ponds,” which opens thus: “Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip, and worn out all my village friends, I rambled still farther westward than I habitually dwell…” Thoreau then retreats away from the mindless distractions of community life toward an immersion into Nature, with water at its spiritual center.

Next, flip back to the earlier chapter “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” Here Thoreau invites readers on a downward journey, from the fleeting shallows of their social lives to the solid depths of their individual lives:

“Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality…”

Our brains build that reality – yours, mine, everyone’s – by integrating external sensory signals with internal memories. Thoreau’s point – which is supported by 21st-century cognitive and neuroscience research – is that the real you precedes the social you. Your world is built from the inside of your skull outward, not vice versa.

‘Walden’ is a book about breaking away and focusing on the essential facts of life.

The elusive simple life

Thoreau’s retreat to Walden Pond is often mistaken for a hermit’s flight deep into the woods. Actually, Thoreau put some distance between himself and his home and village so that he could understand himself and society better. When not in town, he swapped human companionship for the “beneficent society” of Nature for long enough to make “the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant.”

Today mandatory social distancing is wrecking the global economy, based on traditional metrics like gross domestic product and stock prices. Viewed through “Walden,” this wreckage may look like a long-overdue correction for an unsustainable system.

Thoreau feared that the economy he saw was headed in the wrong direction. His opening chapter, “Economy,” is an extended rant against what he viewed as a capitalistic, urbanizing, consumption-driven, fashion-conscious 19th-century New England.

Of his neighbors, Thoreau wrote, “By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book” – meaning the Christian Bible – “laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”

In contrast, his recipe for a good economy is one of “Walden”‘s most famous quotes: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”

Thoreau’s family operated a flourishing pencil manufacturing business in the 1840s.
University of Florida, CC BY

That was easier said than done, even for Thoreau. When he conceived “Walden,” he was an unemployed, landless idealist. By the time it was published, he lived in a big house that was heated with Appalachian coal, earning income by manufacturing pulverized graphite and surveying for land developers.

Since then, the world’s population has more than quintupled and developed nations have built a global economy approaching US$100 trillion per year. Human impacts on the planet have become so powerful that scientists have coined the term Anthropocene to describe our current epoch.

Finding perspective in solitude

Some Americans have tried at least halfheartedly to follow “Walden”’s idealistic advice by living deliberately, being more self-reliant and shrinking their planetary footprints. Personally, although I’ve downsized my house, walk to work, fly only for funerals and cook virtually every meal from scratch, in my heart I know I’ve also contributed to the world’s swelling population, burn fracked natural gas and am hopelessly embedded in a consumer economy.

Nevertheless, after several weeks of social distancing, I’m rediscovering the value of two of Thoreau’s key points: Solitude is helping me recalibrate what matters most, and the current economic slowdown offers short-term gains and a long-term message for the planet.

These benefits don’t compensate for the incalculable personal losses and grief that COVID-19 is inflicting worldwide. But they are consolation prizes until things stabilize in the new normal. On my daily solitary walk in the woods, I am mindful of Thoreau’s words: “Next to us is not the workman whom we have hired, with whom we love so well to talk, but the workman whose work we are.”

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read our newsletter.]The Conversation

Robert M. Thorson, Professor of Geology, University of Connecticut

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

AllTrails


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the AllTrails app, for use when bushwalking/hiking, running, mountain bike riding, etc.

For more visit:
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2019/10/discover-new-hiking-trails-with-this-app/