Our National Trails are Woefully Failing Us

Help Us Get the Attention of Congress.

The Last Oversight Hearing was 47 Years Ago!

Your Signature Could Make All the Difference.     


Since the back-to-the land movement of the 1960s, and particularly since Covid, Americans have been showing an ever-increasing interest in hiking. Everyone, it seems, is striving for greater health and fitness. Sadly, of our 11 National Scenic Trails, such as the Pacific Coast Trail, the Florida Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, all are broken pathways except for the Appalachian Trail. This means that long distance trekkers, and even day hikers, are forced to exit our national trails at numerous points and hike along local roadways with cars whizzing past. 

A shocking 28% of our total national scenic trail-way, over 4,470 miles, is on roads or runs through undedicated private properties that are vulnerable to closure at any time. At present there are no plans to solve this shameful situation. Both the U.S. Forest and U.S. Park Services suggest that eventually all right-of-way properties will come up for sale. History does not bear this out. Based on probabilities, this would not happen in many lifetimes, if ever.

This kind of acquisition dilemma was wisely anticipated when the Appalachian Trail was created by an Act of Congress in 1968. Granted along with other provisions for the trail was the right of eminent domain, which allows lands to be acquired by the government at fair market prices in the same way all roads, railroads and other public corridors are acquired. Thanks to the eminent domain provision, the A.T. is and has been completed and protected as a national treasure ever since its creation, just as our national parks and preserves are protected. The A.T. is heavily used and greatly loved; it will be there for all time.

The 30-year history of the A.T. acquisition shows that approximately 1 of 6 of all properties along the trail route had to be purchased using the eminent domain provision. This 1/6 factor is almost exactly the same as for other corridor projects. For example, between 2017 and 2020 the Federal Highway Administration had to use eminent domain 20,512 times during its 123,463 separate land acquisitions. Again, the ratio was one in six for each year. Based on much experience, eminent domain will also be necessary 16% of the time for each National Scenic Trail, if we are to acquire all the right-of way for a first-rate system. We must face up to this situation and lobby Congress to use its power for the sake of healthful hiking experiences. The alternative is a collection of broken trails, poor cousins to the A.T.

Here’s the most painful part. The U.S. Forest Service has told us we will complete these trails without the need of eminent domain. And we believed them. I have personally been told this twice. It’s a chimera, a fantasy. I have proven this point mathematically in my blogs. 

Today I am putting my money where my mouth is. I have placed $5,000 in escrow in Ameris Bank, St. Augustine, for anyone who can show me a foot trail or any other long, thin corridor for any purpose, assembled through 500 continuous miles of private property, involving at least 100 owners, without eminent domain. Bear in mind, most of our best-known trails are much longer than this.

Write to me, jimkern@thekernco.com, and I’ll send you, without charge, my five blogs with more hard info on this hiking issue. Or send me $19.85 and I’ll send with the 5 blogs my book Broken Promise: The Plight of Our National Trails (An Appeal to the U.S. Congress on Behalf of 47.9 Million Hikers before Covid, 60 million after Covid.)

When we can show at least 20,000 hikers behind our effort, we will start putting pressure on Congress to do the right thing: provide all our National Trails what Congress provided for the Appalachian Trail.  For that we need your support.

Jim Kern

Please Sign Our Petition Here:

A List of Our 11 National Scenic Trails

Appalachian Trail

  • Miles: 2,198.   Miles in Gaps: None. Continuous from end to end.
  • States: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia
  • Year Designated: 1968
  • Link: AppalachianTrail.org
  • Comments: The only NST continuous and secure for posterity. The gold standard for a national trails system. Should the other ten even be called National Scenic Trails?

Arizona Trail

  • Miles: 807. Miles in Gaps: None. Entirely on Federal land.
  • States: Arizona
  • Year Designated: 2009
  • Link: AZTrail.org
  • Comments: Best months: March, April, October, November. Verify your water source before you set off.

Continental Divide Trail

  • Miles: 3,100. Miles in Gaps: 190
  • States: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico
  • Year Designated: 1978
  • Link: ContinentalDivideTrail.org
  • Comments: A crying shame this trail is still not continuous.

Florida Trail

  • Miles: 1,584. Miles in Gaps: 452
  • States: Florida
  • Year Designated: 1983
  • Link: FloridaTrail.org
  • Comments: The only winter footpath free of snow.

Ice Age Trail

  • Miles: 1,200. Miles in Gaps: 515
  • States: Wisconsin
  • Year Designated: 1980
  • Link: IceAgeTrail.org
  • Comments: The Ice Age Trail Alliance does a fine job of managing this trail. 

Natchez Trace Trail

  • Miles: 444. Miles in Gaps: 384
  • States: Mississippi  
  • Year Designated: 1983
  • Link: NPS.gov

New England National Scenic Trail

  • Miles: 215. Miles in Gaps: 73
  • States: Connecticut, Massachusetts
  • Year Designated: 2009
  • Link: NewEnglandTrail.org

North Country Trail

  • Miles: 4,800. Miles in Gaps: 1,560
  • States: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin
  • Year Designated: 1980
  • Link: NorthCountryTrail.org

Pacific Crest Trail

  • Miles: 2,650. Miles in Gaps: 300
  • States: California, Oregon, Washington
  • Year Designated: 1968
  • Link: PCTA.org
  • Comments: Why isn’t this trail secure for posterity? Some constituency will pay a price for this negligence.

Pacific Northwest Trail

  • Miles: 1,200. Miles in Gaps: 318
  • States: Idaho, Montana, Washington
  • Year Designated: 2009
  • Link: PNT.org

Potomac Heritage Trail

  • Miles: 821. Miles in Gaps: 108
  • States: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia
  • Year Designated: 1983
  • Link: NPS.gov
  • Comments:  Only one route from north to south should be selected as the corridor for this trail. 

The Rules

The first person to identify for us an existing trail through 500 continuous miles of private property, involving at least 100 owners, open to the public, will be paid $5,000 plus accrued interest from Ameris Bank, St. Augustine.  Only the first winning party identified will be declared the winner. People who participate must be 18 or older. The offer will terminate on May 31, 2024. No entry fee required.

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