Our National Scenic Trails and issues Congress must address

Jim Kern and Larry Luxenberg hiking the New England Trail in beautiful Fall weather in 2020.  A first look at the NET for Jim. 

As many of you know, I’m working on a book about the state of our National Scenic Trails. It’s not all good news. But if you enjoy our natural world and outdoor recreation in the U.S., and if you like to hike, you need to know what I have uncovered. Here’s my working title: “The Scandal of Our National Trails.”

I hope to publish it in a couple of months, but between now and then we’re going to drop some factoids from the book onto Facebook, followed by blogs on our website that may disappoint you.

In 1968 Congress passed the National Trails System Act to do two things: One, preserve the Appalachian Trail by acquiring the remaining 700 miles of a 2,190 mile trail. Two, establish a national trails system. The Pacific Crest Trail would be the second trail added to the system. Today there are 11 National Scenic Trails. Only the A.T. is secure for posterity. The other 10 have gaps. Thousands of miles of gaps. The ’68 Congress would be appalled by this lack of progress.

Gaps are being acquired, but at such a slow rate that our trails will never be completed. Development will overtake them.

In 1978 Congress held oversight hearings to see how their legislation was doing. They had to tweak this Act for several reasons. Congress has not taken another look by way of an oversight hearing in 42 years.

No definition of a National Scenic Trail was given in the ’68 and ’78 legislation. So it’s reasonable to look at the trails that were chosen and use them as a template:

Appalachian Trail 1968
Pacific Crest Trail 1968
Continental Divide Trail 1978
North Country Trail 1980
Ice Age Trail 1980

We find other National Scenic Trails that don’t fit the definition we’ve just created. And it appears we might have a trail or two that would qualify that can’t get into the club. What do we do about them?
In the weeks ahead we will be listing other reasons why our National Scenic Trails need another oversight hearing ASAP.

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