National Trails System Continues to Grow

October 15, 2008

The National Trails System is in its hiking prime, celebrating its 40th birthday on Oct. 2, 2008. The network of 26 trails traverses about 60,000 miles throughout the country.

The System isn't bogged down in a mid-life crisis. Thousands of miles of trails have been added since 2000. Many more trails could be approved in November 2008, or in 2009, depending on how Congress votes.

The 40th anniversary, and the fall hiking season, offer good opportunities to do stories on existing trails, those approved but not yet a physical reality, and those that may soon be approved. The odds are high that at least one of these trails is near you.

Some trails tend to be widely known, such as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Others are a little lower on the recognition totem pole, such as the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

Five trails, covering about 9,000 miles, have been added since 2000, and may not be well known to local or national audiences. They are in various stages of planning or development.

  • 2000: El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail (NM and TX)
  • 2000: Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (Hawaii)
  • 2002: Old Spanish National Historic Trail (Southwest)
  • 2004: El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail (LA and TX)
  • 2006: Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (MD and VA)

Another trail was approved on May 8, 2008. The Star Spangled Banner American National Historic Trail links land and water routes used by British and American troops during the 1814 sieges of Washington, DC, and Baltimore. It traipses through areas in Virginia and Maryland, including portions of Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent, Potomac, and Patapsco Rivers (search Thomas for S. 2739; this trail is discussed under National Park Service items, about halfway down the document). There should be many local stories as this trail takes shape.

Many other trail segments have been proposed in recent years. A number of these have been approved by the US House, and are included in a massive omnibus bill that contains about 150 public lands, natural resources, and water projects. The US Senate could vote on it during a lame duck session, possibly on Nov. 17 (search Thomas for S 3213 and S 2180). If the Senate gives the bill a thumbs up, the House would need to do the same. If both don't approve the bill, it would need to be considered anew in 2009.

Among the trails covered in the bill are:

  • the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail. It would traverse about 600 miles in eight states, running from Rhode Island to Virginia. It commemorates the movement of American and French troops on their way to winning the Revolutionary War (search Thomas for S. 686 and HR 1286).
  • the New England National Scenic Trail, extending through parts of CT and MA, and possibly NH, was sponsored by Rep. John Oliver (D-MA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) (search Thomas for HR 1528 and S 923).
  • Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) are sponsoring a bill that would establish the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (search Thomas for HR 5926 and S 2943).
  • the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail is sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). It would link selected areas in ID, MT, OR, and WA (search Thomas for HR 450 and S 268).
  • Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have a bill called the Arizona National Scenic Trail Act, which would create a trail of more than 800 miles within Arizona, stretching from the US-Mexico border to the AZ-UT border (search Thomas for HR 2297 and S 1304).
  • A National Park Service action authorized in the bill directs the agency to study extending the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to areas used by the expedition in its preparation and return stages. This could add trails and sites in DE, IL, IN, KY, MD, MO, OH, PA, TN, VA, WV, and Washington, D.C.
  • Legislation requiring the Secretary of Interior to update the feasibility and suitability studies of four existing trails is also included in the package (affecting the Oregon National Historic Trail, the Pony Express National Historic Trail, the California National Historic Trail, and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail). Rep. Ed Blumenauer (D-OR) sponsored the original legislation.
  • Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) has his hand in the bill with the National Trails System Willing Seller Authority, which generally requires for many specific trails that any land acquisition must have the consent of the land owner, along with other provisions.

Outside the actions covered in the bill, the designation of a 6,000-mile-long American Discovery Trail, extending from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California, is in its formative stages. This trail, and other "discovery trails" yet to be designated, are intended to link representative examples of American trails and communities. Authorizing legislation hasn't progressed very far (search Thomas for HR 74).

As you develop your stories about these trails, Web sites that can help you find interested hiking groups, government agencies, and other sources include:

The System isn't bogged down in a mid-life crisis. Thousands of miles of trails have been added since 2000. Many more trails could be approved in November 2008, or in 2009, depending on how Congress votes.

The 40th anniversary, and the fall hiking season, offer good opportunities to do stories on existing trails, those approved but not yet a physical reality, and those that may soon be approved. The odds are high that at least one of these trails is near you.

Some trails tend to be widely known, such as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Others are a little lower on the recognition totem pole, such as the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

Five trails, covering about 9,000 miles, have been added since 2000, and may not be well known to local or national audiences. They are in various stages of planning or development.

  • 2000: El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail (NM and TX)
  • 2000: Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (Hawaii)
  • 2002: Old Spanish National Historic Trail (Southwest)
  • 2004: El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail (LA and TX)
  • 2006: Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (MD and VA)

Another trail was approved on May 8, 2008. The Star Spangled Banner American National Historic Trail links land and water routes used by British and American troops during the 1814 sieges of Washington, DC, and Baltimore. It traipses through areas in Virginia and Maryland, including portions of Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent, Potomac, and Patapsco Rivers (search Thomas for S. 2739; this trail is discussed under National Park Service items, about halfway down the document). There should be many local stories as this trail takes shape.

Many other trail segments have been proposed in recent years. A number of these have been approved by the US House, and are included in a massive omnibus bill that contains about 150 public lands, natural resources, and water projects. The US Senate could vote on it during a lame duck session, possibly on Nov. 17 (search Thomas for S 3213 and S 2180). If the Senate gives the bill a thumbs up, the House would need to do the same. If both don't approve the bill, it would need to be considered anew in 2009.

Among the trails covered in the bill are:

  • the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail. It would traverse about 600 miles in eight states, running from Rhode Island to Virginia. It commemorates the movement of American and French troops on their way to winning the Revolutionary War (search Thomas for S. 686 and HR 1286).
  • the New England National Scenic Trail, extending through parts of CT and MA, and possibly NH, was sponsored by Rep. John Oliver (D-MA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) (search Thomas for HR 1528 and S 923).
  • Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) are sponsoring a bill that would establish the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (search Thomas for HR 5926 and S 2943).
  • the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail is sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). It would link selected areas in ID, MT, OR, and WA (search Thomas for HR 450 and S 268).
  • Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have a bill called the Arizona National Scenic Trail Act, which would create a trail of more than 800 miles within Arizona, stretching from the US-Mexico border to the AZ-UT border (search Thomas for HR 2297 and S 1304).
  • A National Park Service action authorized in the bill directs the agency to study extending the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to areas used by the expedition in its preparation and return stages. This could add trails and sites in DE, IL, IN, KY, MD, MO, OH, PA, TN, VA, WV, and Washington, D.C.
  • Legislation requiring the Secretary of Interior to update the feasibility and suitability studies of four existing trails is also included in the package (affecting the Oregon National Historic Trail, the Pony Express National Historic Trail, the California National Historic Trail, and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail). Rep. Ed Blumenauer (D-OR) sponsored the original legislation.
  • Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) has his hand in the bill with the National Trails System Willing Seller Authority, which generally requires for many specific trails that any land acquisition must have the consent of the land owner, along with other provisions.

Outside the actions covered in the bill, the designation of a 6,000-mile-long American Discovery Trail, extending from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California, is in its formative stages. This trail, and other "discovery trails" yet to be designated, are intended to link representative examples of American trails and communities. Authorizing legislation hasn't progressed very far (search Thomas for HR 74).

As you develop your stories about these trails, Web sites that can help you find interested hiking groups, government agencies, and other sources include: