Our National Trails System
Our National Trails System (NTS) spans 55,000 miles and connects with 70 National Wildlife refuges, 80 National Parks, 90 Bureau of Land Management areas, 90 National Forests, 123 Wilderness Areas, and 100 major metropolitan areas. This incredible system provides access to our country’s diverse landscapes, cultural heritage, and biodiversity.
Above: Map of National Trails System. View full map here
Whether it be a jaunt in the woods, a visit to a historical landmark, or a road trip across the country there is no denying that many if not most American’s have stepped foot on or traveled along at least one of our national trails.
As we continue to work towards the preservation and completion of this trails system, it is important to know that there is still a great deal of work to be done. This is why we head to Washington each year with the American Hiking Society and fellow partners to “Hike the Hill.”
A Week in Washington
Hike the Hill ® is a week-long event that provides opportunities for participants to advocate for the protection, completion, and funding of our NTS.
Above: US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell speaks with Hike the Hill attendees at the Sidney Yates Building, headquarters of the USDA Forest Service
Throughout the week citizen advocates speak with members of Congress, congressional staff, and leaders of the federal land managing agencies. Through these conversations we learn how to better work together, continue to provide education and advocate for important issues and legislation, and plan for the future of our NTS.
The Big Picture
One of the ways we use our voice in Washington is by speaking with Congress about legislation that positively affects the NTS. Some of the key legislation currently being considered is as follows:
- Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (S.338/H.R.1814):
This is one of the most well known pieces of bi-partisan legislation that relates to the National Trails System. The LWCF provides funding that allows for protection and completion of critical sections of trails. Revenue from offshore drilling for oil and gas helps to fund various conservation projects, with no cost to tax-payers. Currently the LWCF will exist for the next three years. We believe, however, that LWCF should be permanently authorized and fully funded at $900 million annually. The LWCF is crucial to the future of our trails.
- National Forest System Stewardship Act (S.1110/H.R.845):
This bi-partisan act would help to decrease the backlog of work needed to be done to maintain the trails on National Forests by increasing opportunities for volunteers and partners to maintain them.
- Wildfire Disaster Funding:
This bi-partisan act would change how the federal government budgets for the suppression of wildfire disasters by treating wildfires like other U.S. disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Clean-up and other responses to these events is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget. This act would fund more of wildfire suppression costs from the FEMA budget rather than the U.S. Forest Service budget.
- Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) (S.405/S.2189/H.R.1651/H.R.3173):
This bi-partisan act would restore the authority to facilitate the sale of not needed federal land by the Bureau of Land Management in order to provide funding to purchase high-priority land for conservation and outdoor recreation.
Above: Lewis Trout (Pacific Northwest Trail Association), Tom Reveley, and Mike Dawson (Pacific Crest Trail Association) pose for a picture outside of the Cannon House of Representatives building)
Furthermore, we believe that greater federal funding for the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and USDA Forest Service’s trails program will help leverage our ability to care for, connect, and protect our NTS. In 2015 alone, for every federal dollar provided the return on investment equaled 1.5:1—thanks to volunteer stewardship of the trails. In total, over 1,000,000 hours of volunteer service were documented along the NTS, which equates to a value of over $24,750,000. Furthermore, private contributions from the national trails organizations for the NTS totaled over $12,390,000. However, as incredible as these contributions are, they are not enough to fully develop and sustain our trails.
Full funding of the LWCF and greater funding for the agencies’ trail programs by Congress will help to provide means to close missing links, protect high-priority recreational and historic areas, and fund additional maintenance and necessary resources to already existing trails.
We are excited to continue to partner with the National Park Service (NPS) in celebration of the NPS Centennial, while also preparing for the celebration of the National Trails System Act’s 50th anniversary in 2018.
After this year’s trip to Washington, we are confident that big things are ahead for the NTS. If Hike the Hill teaches us one thing, it’s that when we use our voices together, they become amplified.
Above: Judy Bittner (Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance), Denise Ryan (National Park Service Deputy Director for Congressional and External Relations), Gary Werner (Partnership for the National Trails System), Elizabeth Stewart (Anza Trail Coalition), and Chelsea Bodamer (Partnership for the National Trails System) pose for a picture at the Department of Interior South Building
You can make a difference too. Providing a voice for our trails and public lands is key to ensuring they are available for generations to come. There is no doubt that nature’s pristine beauty is evident to all those who use it, but for those who are yet to discover this beauty, it is up to us to magnify its voice.
Learn more about contacting Congress to express support for our National Trails System.
We’d like to thank our federal agency partners at the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Forest Service who administer and manage our National Trails for their continued support of the NTS; the many congressmen and congresswomen who support our nation’s trails; and the following organizations for joining us at this year’s event:
- American Endurance Ride Conference
- American Hiking Society
- Anza Trail Foundation
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy
- Back Country Horsemen of America
- Chesapeake Conservancy
- Continental Divide Trail Coalition
- Continental Divide Trail Society
- Connecticut Forest & Park Association
- El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association
- Florida Trail Association
- Ice Age Trail Alliance
- Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance
- Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
- Lewis and Clark Trust, Inc.
- Natchez Trace Parkway Association
- National Pony Express Association
- Nez Perce Trail Foundation
- North Country Trail Association
- Old Spanish Trail Association
- Oregon-California Trails Association
- Overmountain Victory Trail Association
- Pacific Crest Trail Association
- Pacific Northwest Trail Association
- National Pony Express
- Quad Cities CVB
- Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club
- Santa Fe Trail Association
- The Trust for Public Land