Collaboration and Engagement 2021 Highlights

Collaboration and engagement efforts take many forms on National Scenic and Historic Trails. The individuals, organizations, and agencies responsible for National Trails work hard to ensure that the Trails tell the full story of the lands they traverse and the people they impact. From instituting novel programs to engage youth and individuals of diverse backgrounds, to finding ways to bring the trails to people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy them, this work is done in the interest of ensuring that the Trails are welcoming and accessible to all. 2021 was another great year for collaboration and engagement on National Trails, including the expansion and diversification of partnerships, the creation of thought-provoking interpretive and educational programs, and an increased concentration on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) programs. Here are a few highlights from the past year.

Along the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Florida Trail Association (FTA) launched its first Next Generation Coaltion to welcome, train, and develop the next generation of hikers and trail volunteers in the State. Priorities for the Coalition include advising the Florida National Scenic Trail Coalition, contributing to communications including the organization’s newsletter and social media, organizing hikes and trail maintenance events, strengthening partnerships with colleges, schools, and other affinity groups, and helping to implement FTA JEDI initiatives. 

JEDI intiatives were also in focus on the North Country National Scenic Trail. The North Country Trail Association (NCTA) formed a JEDI Committee which held regular meetings throughout 2021 and launched a mini-grant program to support JEDI-focused affinity groups leading experiences on the Trail. Workshops, programs, day hikes, overnight trips, and other opportunities connecting people to the Trail are eligible for funding between $500 and $1,000. Four grants have been awarded since the program launched. 

The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) sponsored Crystal Gail Welcome’s “Footprints for Change Hike for Justice” this summer on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. After a lengthy battle with a rare brain disease, Welcome came to recognize the healing power of nature. She now uses her experience to break down barriers so more people can access the outdoors. “Today I invite everyone to start a new relationship with a trail and a human. Walk a trail, attend a trail clean up, and get to know your neighbor in the process,” Welcome said in her first blog post for PCTA.

On the Iditarod National Historic Trail in Alaska, collaboration played an important role in the planned construction of a much needed shelter. The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance partnered with the White Mountain Native Corporation (WMNC), an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation, to build a new shelter cabin to replace one that had been severely damaged by flooding and glaciation. The new cabin will provide an emergency shelter for mushers and other trail users. WMNC worked with the White Mountain Volunteer Fire Department/Search & Rescue team to identify the best location for the cabin and laid down a base during the summer of 2021. Construction will take place in spring of 2022.

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association W3R-US focused on international diplomacy as a means to broaden its ability to tell the story of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail. In particular, its goal is to highlight the Franco-American Alliance that played a key role with the United States gaining its independence from Great Britain. As such, W3R-US formed new relationships with organizations that share similar goals, such as The Franco-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC and the American Society of Le Souvenir Franciase. This is in addition to new and existing relationships with the French Consuls in districts along the Trail. 

A collaboration on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail led to new understanding about the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their homelands in the 19th century. In June 2021, the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU-CHP) completed a 138-page report on the transportation systems used during the forced relocation of the Cherokee and submitted it to the National Park Service, National Trails office (NTIR). The introduction to the report reads: “The Trail of Tears involved mile after mile of hard travel through miserable conditions. Yet detachments bound for Indian Territory did more than just walk. Although time-honored methods like wagons, keelboats, flatboats, and ferries played major roles, some of the technology used to transport Cherokees on the Trail of Tears was actually quite new.” MTSU-CHP created and published an interpretive booklet on the Cherokee’s transportation experience on the Trail of Tears, entitled “Rivers, Rails & Roads: Transportation During the Cherokee Removal, 1837-1839,” which is posted on the NTIR Trail of Tears website.

The Overmountain Victory Trail Association found new ways to tell the story of the Revolutionary War on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail in 2021. OVTA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the town of Abingdon, Virginia to reopen the Keller Interpretive Center on the Trail’s western terminus, developed dozens of educational videos, and held their annual anniversary commemoration of the journey down the trail to the Battle of Kings Mountain, which marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War in favor of the American Patriots. This year’s event included the story of John Broady/Broddy, an enslaved man who served with the Patriots as they marched toward the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. The story was shared by John’s direct descendant, Arthur Broady.

Several National Historic Trails made youth engagement a priority for 2021, including El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, who partnered with the National History Academy to present virtually on the history of the Trail to high schoolers and teachers across the country. NTIR prepared a 25-minute video that offered the audience an introduction to the world of National Historic Trails and provided them with a virtual tour of sites along the Trail in New Mexico and Texas. By “visiting” these historic sites and places, students were able to experience and learn from a complicated legacy of 300 years of conflict, cooperation, and cultural exchange between different empires, nations, and communities.

A new interactive Junior Ranger program was also launched at 30 sites in 13 states along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. To earn a Junior Ranger badge, kids work on an activity book that engages them where they are located and connects them to the national Lewis and Clark Expedition story. The program includes innovative elements to boost engagement and accessibility, such as online read-along videos, a Native Names webpage that allows participants to hear Indigenous names of plants and animals, and custom 3D tactile maps of the Lewis and Clark Trail to help non-sighted participants understand the trail route.

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail’s Trail Ambassador Sail program, in partnership with Pride of Baltimore, Inc. celebrated its first anniversary in 2021. The program reached more than 7,435 in-person visitors through park-ranger led educational programs and deck tours onboard the ship PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II (PRIDE II), a replica of an 1812 War schooner. The program was also watched by over 11,000 people virtually through live streams and videos. These educational programs taught citizens in eight Maryland port towns about privateers and the African American experience during the War of 1812. PRIDE II also sailed the Chesapeake Bay and engaged visitors in the history of the people and places in various regions along the Trail.

The individuals and organizations responsible for building, maintaining, interpreting and promoting National Scenic and Historic Trails work hard to identify and forge high impact partnerships. 2021 marked yet another year in which diversity, youth engagement, and expanded partnerships were paramount to the trail experience across the National Trails System.