Business Is Booming on Appalachian Trail

In echoes of Depression-era hobos, hikers subsist on bartered farm labor
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2009 1:00 PM CDT
In this Aug. 7, 2006 file photo, Greg Morath of Cincinnati, Ohio, pauses on Chairback Mountain on the 100-Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail north of Monson, Maine.    (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – The Appalachian Trail has been packed this year, as the unemployed wait out the bad economy by hiking almost 2,200 miles between Maine and Georgia—and often pay for the journey by working as they go, the Wall Street Journal reports. The trail offers a subsistence lifestyle—hikers budget $1 a mile and trade short-term labor at farms and businesses along the way for food and shelter—without the stigma of homelessness or unemployment.

"If you do this on the trail, you're a hiker," says one. "If you do this off the trail, you're a bum." As they trade vegetable weeding or hay baling for a place to crash, hikers are reminiscent of Great Depression hobos. But unlike hobos of yore, today's hikers have resumes on their mind—one 22-year-old hopes the farm work she did while hiking will bolster her Peace Corps application.