KENT — Starting each June, through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail — with trail names like Chuck Wagon, Turtle, Invictus, South Bound and Bones — start striding, or staggering, into town.
“You can always tell when summer’s here,” Perry Gasperini, floor manager of the Davis IGA, said of the boot-clad, backpack-bearing, sweat-stained stream of visitors, most headed north to Mount Katahdin in Maine and the end of a 2,000-mile journey that began with a single step in Springer Mountain, Ga.
“We’re glad to see them.”
Except one place in town isn’t.
Kent Green Laundromat hasn’t just withdrawn its welcome mat, it’s actively telling hikers to keep walking if they want clean clothes.
“Due to the inconsiderate hikers that have come before you, hikers are no longer allowed in this laundromat for any reason,” the sign says.
It advises them, if it’s necessary, to use the public bathroom behind the House of Books on Main Street and to find washers and dryers north and south of town.
“This is the only laundromat in Kent,” the sign says.
Thanks to blogs and emails and Twitter, hikers heading into town have already got the word about the laundromat.
“News travels fast on the trail,” said Dave Smorado, of St. Louis, whose trail name is Hump.
Reaction to the ban was mixed.
“I think it’s a crappy thing to do,” said Marcus Ross, 30, of Missouri, known as Bones.
“I understand where she’s coming from. It’s a shame it had to happen,” said another hiker. “But it’s also a shame we can’t use the laundromat.”
The “she” in this case in the laundromat’s owner. She identified herself only as “The Owner” to a reporter. But the laundromat’s website identifies the owner of Kent Green Laundromat as Caralee Rochovansky, as did others in town who know her.
She asked not to be quoted directly, saying the sign spoke for itself.
But after talking for a few minutes, she told a reporter “you can paraphrase” the sources of her unhappiness.
Which are: The hikers are rude and dirty, and make her place dirty in turn. They spread the contents of their packs all over the laundromat, preventing other patrons from doing their laundry.
They’ve stolen toilet paper and soap from her. On more than one occasion, she’s found hikers hanging around nude on the premises while they washed all of their clothes.
These things have been going on for a long time. Banning hikers from her place, she said, is the most stress-reducing thing she’s done in years.
And she is apparently within her legal rights to do so.
Jim O’Neill, legislative liaison with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, said there are protected classes in the state. You cannot discriminate against others on issues like race, age, gender or sexual orientation.
“Stinky people are not a protected class,” O’Neill said.
Brian King, spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which works to maintain the trail and conserve the environment that surrounds it, said Friday the Kent Green Laundromat experience with hikers isn’t a new one.
“We’ve had it happen before,” King said. “It’s usually a restaurant or a grocery store.”
Because news travels from hiker to hiker, flare-ups like this can be self-regulating, King said.
“When it happens, other hikers try to work with the people to solve the problems,” he said.
First Selectman Bruce Adams, like many others in town, wasn’t really pleased with the sign on the laundromat’s door.
“The hikers I talk to always seem very grateful for any help you can give them,” Adams said. “They’re part of the Kent summer scene.”
“They’re good guys,” said Antonio Hernandez, who owns The Villager Restaurant on Main Street. “I talk to a lot of them. I’ve never had a issue with them.”
They also have to buy food and supplies when they reach civilization. They buy non-trail necessities like beer and pizza in the evening, and coffee and bagels in the morning.
“You can’t be a homeless person and hike the Appalachian Trail,” said Marcus Ross, of Missouri. “I work as a nurse. I worked hard for a year to save up to do this.”
Anne McAndrew, owner of Backcountry Outfitters, which caters to hikers in general, said she’s had good experiences with the through-hikers.
“I’ve been here since 1994,” McAndrew said. “I’ve never had a single problem. They’ve seen places I’ve never been to.”
And if there are a few jerks on the Appalachian Trail who act rudely in a laundromat, they are just a cross-section of humanity in general.
“Hikers are no different from anyone else,” McAndrew said.