Mission of Hiking Trails for America

At the request of Bill Kemsley, Founding Publisher, Backpacker Magazine, I sent him a memo outlining the facts driving our mission. 



Date:             5/20/21

To:                 Bill Kemsley, Founding Publisher, Backpacker Magazine

From:            Jim Kern

Re:                Closing the Gaps in Our National Scenic Trails

There are two staggering sets of stats concerning the Hiking Trails for America mission, both relate to trail gaps and eminent domain. Here they are:

1.        In 1968 the first trail chosen by Congress to be the prototype for a National Trail System was the Appalachian Trail, complete and continuous over its 2,190-mile length because Congress provided eminent domain in the ’68 legislation. The other ten have over 16,000 miles of alignment. Within that trail corridor there are just over 4,000 miles of gaps, 25%!  Side note: the Pacific Crest Trail Association recently acquired 17 miles of its 190 miles in gaps, but they had to raise $15 million to do it. Some real estate brokers in the area think they overpaid. Without eminent domain this overpaying will go on and on.

2.        In the 30-year effort to buy the remaining 700 miles of gaps on the Appalachian Trail, now continuous from end-to-end, the Park Service acquired 2,550 separate parcels. Of those, about 400 required the use of eminent domain, 15.7% of the total.

In 2019 the Federal Highway Administration in all 50 states acquired 32,598 parcels of land. They used eminent domain 5,371 times, 16.5% of the time. In 2020 the FHWA, similarly acquired 29,580 properties in all 50 states and used eminent domain in 15.7% of the time.

It should be obvious, there is no way around these figures: long corridors need eminent domain. Trails are corridors.

The use of the corridor should make no difference, and we see that it doesn’t. Whether for a highway or a footpath, 15% to 17% of the property owners, if the sample is large enough, will not wish to sell, bringing on eminent domain.

If Congress and the American public don’t want to use eminent domain, our trails will remain in gaps. This is a democracy; if the people want a national trail system of completed trails, they should insist on it. If not, hikers should accept trails with gaps.

Hope this helps.


Over 50 years have passed since the National Trails System Act became law.  How much longer are we willing to wait until our trails are completed?  At the current rate, the gaps in our national trails will not be closed in our lifetimes.  But we can change this delay today by coming together to petition the U.S. Congress to hold oversight hearings to find a solution to close the gaps in the national trails system.  It is inevitable that we will find that eminent domain is the only efficient and cost-effective way these gaps will be closed.  Please read more about our mission in my new book Broken Promise:  The Plight of Our National Trails and sign our Petition to close the gaps in America’s trails.

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