National Scenic and Historic trails serve tens of millions of visitors each year. Since 2020, trail use has skyrocketed following social distancing requirements and increased use has continued throughout 2021. Trail managers in the public and private sectors have therefore had to work to expand their capacities, streamline communications with trails enthusiasts and volunteers, and build upon their ability to welcome visitors to National Trails by strengthening their organizations and their relationships with partners.
In Montgomery, Alabama, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail (SMNHT) celebrated the reopening of the $5 million Montgomery Interpretive Center. The center, which is hosted by Alabama State University, opened its doors to visitors on Memorial Day, 2021. The facility is the third visitor contact station along the SMNHT and features exhibits that provide information about the Civil Rights Movement of 1965, focusing on events that occurred in Montgomery between March 8 and March 25, 1965 as nonviolent protestors gathered to march from Selma, Alabama to the State’s capitol in Montgomery to demand equal voting rights.
The Overmountain Victory Trail Association (OVTA) developed a master plan focused on the section of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT) linking Morganton with Rutherfordton, North Carolina. This significant section of the trail includes four encampment sites, including the only site used by both the Tory army under British Major Patrick Ferguson and the Overmountain soldiers of the American Patriot militia during the Revolutionary War. Plans for this important segment resulted in a memorandum of agreement between the OVTA and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, leading North Carolina to adopt the OVNHT as the Overmountain Victory State Trail, meaning that the Trail will now be included in the State’s $29.25 million budget for their network of 12 State Trails.
Since the extension of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) into Vermont in 2019, the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) has worked to build partnerships with local land managers, land owners, volunteers, and partner organizations in the Green Mountain State. In August 2021, an in-person stakeholder meeting was held in Vermont that was attended by partners at the NCTA, Middlebury Area Land Trust, Green Mountain Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and agency partners from the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service. At this meeting, hosted by the Green Mountain National Forest, participants considered critical foundational elements and made decisions related to the roles and responsibilities relating to management of the NCNST, current trail routing and potential new trail segments and plans for the Eastern Terminus of the Trail at Maine Junction where the NCNST, Appalachian NST, and Long Trail meet. Progress has been made since the meetings.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) launched a digital clearinghouse for Appalachian National Scenic Trail volunteer opportunities. The Volunteer Engagement Platform (VEP) connects volunteer interests with all volunteer-coordinating organizations along the length of the nearly 2,200-mile-long Trail. 97 events were shared to broaden public engagement in the care of the ATNST in the VEP’s first year of operation. ATC also launched a flagship volunteer training virtually in 2021. The Volunteer Leadership Academy engaged 125 volunteers in learning sessions related to Cooperative Management of the ATNST, along with Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training for volunteers and project leaders.
The National Park Service, National Trails office (NTIR) hosted an intern under the Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP) during the summer of 2021, as part of an ongoing effort to develop the next generation of Trail leadership. This program is designed to provide internship opportunities to young Latinx individuals in diverse professional fields. NTIR’s project involved outreach to certified partners along the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. Intern Ramona Malczynski worked with the Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA), the Bureau of Land Management, and certified partners to assess needs for technical assistance from NTIR, update site information on NTIR websites and the new NPS app, and identify new potential partners. The internship revitalized partnerships across the Old Spanish NHT and identified opportunities for additional ways in which partners can work together to promote the National Historic Trails.
The Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA) coordinated with the USDA Forest Service, Olympic National Park, Back Country Horsemen of America, and other local stakeholders to reopen a heavily damaged and long deferred multi-jurisdictional segment of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail on the Western Olympic Peninsula.
The segment, known locally as the Bogachiel Trail, was largely unmaintained for most of the last decade after the Bogachiel River changed course and washed out a lower section of the Trail. PNTA brought together multiple agencies and regional partner groups to address the damage across multiple land management jurisdictions, and then led a 10-week project utilizing PNTA’s own Performance Trail Crews and Technical Advisor with help from Olympic National Park trails staff and pack support from Olympic National Park and the local Back Country Horsemen. By season’s end, the collaborative effort restored access to over 20 miles of the Trail and established new relationships with regional stakeholders to strengthen the organizations’ collective ability to maintain trails.
On the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) expanded their team from 12 to 14 full time employees to increase their development, advocacy and outreach capabilities. This included hiring CDTC’s first Regional representative for New Mexico, Cornell Torivio. Torivio is a Native American from the Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. He founded Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps and served 13 years as a member and vice chair for the Board of Directors for Conservation Legacy. Says CDTC Executive Director Teresa Martinez, “We look forward to the leadership (Torivio) will provide in our work across New Mexico in, not just completing the Continental Divide Trail, but in helping us work more closely with Tribal Nations.”
The nonprofit Appalachian Mountain Club also enjoyed great success in engaging a ‘next gen’ intern on the New England National Scenic Trail with support from the Partnership for the National Trails System. Communications Assistant Lydia Jankowski conducted an assessment of the New England NST in Massachusetts by walking all 100 miles of trail in the State and documenting Trail assets such as bridges, water bars, signage, and parking areas using a digital survey system. With these data, Trail staff and volunteers will be able to better prioritize maintenance projects and qualify for funding through the NPS facility management system. A similar survey has been completed for the portion of the New England NST in Connecticut.
The Gateway Chapter of the nonprofit that manages both the Oregon and California National Historic Trails known as the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) worked with partners on a number of events and projects. A few highlights include constructing a replica of a covered wagon that was used by emigrants going west from St. Joseph, Missouri for the Robidoux Row Museum; co-sponsoring a program on the historic Missouri River in Northwest Missouri at the Remington Nature Center that included talks about the fur trade and travels on and across the Missouri River; and holding a bus tour of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail in the Kansas City Area. The OCTA also held a successful summit in Elko, Nevada in September. Over 200 people attended the convention, which featured five separate presentations by and about Native Americans on the California National Historic Trail.
Whether conducting trail inventories, building new online systems for volunteers, holding unique educational events, or refurbishing trails, National Scenic and Historic Trails made 2021 a banner year in terms of building more resilient relationships with their partners, strengthening their organizations, and keeping the spirit of cooperation alive and well amongst Trail partners from dozens of organizations and agencies.