PNTA, first end-to-end hikes mark 40 years

By Jeff Kish, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association

On a foggy summer morning in the Puget Sound, Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT) enthusiasts from all over the country joined the Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA) to celebrate two historic milestones, the 40th anniversaries of the founding of the PNTA and the first five end-to-end thru-hikes of the PNT.

PNTA Executive Director Jeff Kish (left) and founder Ron Strickland (right) emcee the evening raffle. (Photo courtesy Miguel “VirGo” Aguilar)

The celebration took place August 5, 2017 along the trail in Washington’s Deception Pass State Park, and it included two guided interpretive hikes on segments of the PNT, a pop-up trail history exhibit, an amphitheater film screening, and a special presentation by Ron Strickland, PNT and PNTA founder.

This year’s thru-hikers rubbed shoulders with early PNT pioneers, and curious locals met trail enthusiasts who traveled in from far and wide. Several generations of PNTA board members, staff, and volunteers came together to celebrate the creation of not only a world-class long distance trail, but also the dedicated community that fosters it.

Attendees enjoyed activities throughout the day, such as cross-cut saw demonstrations, interactive displays in the history exhibit, a presentation on the development of the PNT interpretive plan, and plenty of socializing in the Base Camp beer garden. The evening events were held in a rustic amphitheater, under a canopy of old growth, in front of a scenic backdrop that included views of the Deception Pass Bridge—an iconic landmark of the Pacific Northwest Trail.

PNTA President Charley Carpenter and Executive Director Jeff Kish kicked the evening off by welcoming Strickland to the stage for a presentation on PNT history and his vision for the future of the trail. Afterwards, guests listened with fingers crossed as Strickland and Kish raffled off gear that was generously donated by leading outdoor gear manufacturers in support of PNTA operations.

PNTA 40th anniversary guests enjoy a screening of “A Sense of Direction.”
(Photo courtesy Miguel “VirGo” Aguilar)

As the sun set over the Puget Sound, Alex Maier presented his film, “A Sense of Direction,” which documented the 2015 season from a thru-hiker’s perspective. Several of the characters featured in the film had gathered in the audience to relive their adventures as they unfolded in front of an enthralled audience on the big screen.

Although great care was taken to honor the history of the Pacific Northwest Trail, including the many volunteers that labored for decades to give us the trail that we enjoy today, the evening’s events turned a gaze toward the future, and challenged members of the audience to consider how they will become a part of the legacy of the PNT.

Highlights from 1977

• An early version of the Divide-to-Pacific pathway across Montana, Idaho, and Washington had been cobbled together after six years of exploration and route selection.
• The Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA) was incorporated as its primary advocates.
• The first five Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) pioneers completed end-to-end thru-hikes of the trail, proving the route.
• The National Trails System Act was amended to list 22 new trails for consideration to be added to the National Trails System, and the PNT was among the bunch.

Pacific Northwest Trail Association founder Ron Strickland addresses the 40th anniversary crowd in August 2017. (Photo courtesy Miguel “VirGo” Aguilar)

Road to becoming a National Scenic Trail

A 1980 report through the Departments of Agriculture and Interior determined that while the PNT “would have the scenic and recreational qualities needed for designation as a National Scenic Trail … its construction was neither feasible nor desirable,” primarily due to projected costs of land acquisition and construction along the 1,200-mile corridor. Despite the discouraging news, the PNTA persisted.

Throughout the following decades, the trail was scouted, current conditions were inventoried, volunteers were recruited, local support was rallied, new tread was constructed, signs and blazes were installed, and a dream began to take shape as reality. For three decades, the trail that “would cost too much to build” was being built by the PNTA’s countless dedicated volunteers, and in 2008, all the hard work began to pay off. That year, Norm Dicks and Maria Cantwell introduced new Pacific Northwest Trail legislation to Congress.

The following spring, Congress would pass the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, and President Obama would sign it into law. The PNT is now the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.