Decade for the National Trails Goals

Decade Goal 1 – Outreach and Public Awareness

In the challenge of protecting land, constructing trail on the ground, mapping the trail, and all the logistical challenges of managing trails, outreach may at first seem like a luxury. Yet there is a reason Outreach is listed as the first goal for the Decade for the National Trails and that is because community engagement, education, and public awareness are truly prerequisites for both the protection and the capacity building of the National Trails System.

The demand on our public lands and natural resources will only increase, and trails can play a major part in engaging individuals and communities with public treasures.

Relationships to land offer perhaps the greatest potential in preserving resources in light of demand from other interests, because people protect land that carries personal memories, tells stories relevant to them, and facilitates quality time with family and friends. Communities protect lands that offer recreational and fitness value, bring in tourism dollars, and offer practical solutions to transportation and green space needs.

Similarly, the capacity of organizations to build, maintain, and serve as stewards for the trails and their corridors is directly linked to effective outreach. Volunteers and donors assist organizations that have reached out to them and showed them the location and value of the trails. Outreach thus represents an investment in the future capacity of organizations. Perhaps that investment will pay out in a few days, when someone who partakes in an educational event comes back to help with trail building, or perhaps, in the case of young children, the investment leads to the long-term sustainability and public awareness of the trail. Either way, outreach can be viewed not as taxing the resources of an organization, but as a direct effort toward trail stewardship development.

Decade Goal 2 – Resource Protection and Trail Completion

In 2008, as we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Congress’ passage of the National Trails System Act, our joy was tempered by the knowledge of how unfinished the trails system is. Although Congress has authorized 11 national scenic and 19 national historic trails, only one—the Appalachian National Scenic Trail—is fully open for the use for which it is intended (an off-road footpath for hikers).

The 19 national historic trails are similarly incomplete. For 16 of those trails nearly 2,400 “high potential sites or segments”—the best pieces of these trails still intact—have been documented. Barely 25 percent of these sites are properly protected to preserve their resources and the setting of the landscapes that can evoke clear images of the historic past for trail visitors.

Decade Goal 2 was devised to focus attention on these critical deficiencies and to accelerate efforts to “complete” the scenic and historic trails by the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System in 2018. Several objectives and a number of specific actions lay out a sequence of concerted programs and activities to:

  • Conduct natural, cultural, and historic resource inventories of each of the trails;
  • Develop land management plans that protect those resources and their landscape settings on all sections of the trails on public lands;
  • Develop land protection plans to guide efforts to secure permanent corridors for each of the trails across private land and to secure the funding and staffing to systematically acquire land from willing sellers;
  • Develop interpretive plans for the scenic trails as well as the historic trails to guide installation of facilities, systems, and activities to tell the stories of the trails and the resources they feature and protect;
  • Build and maintain the tread, structures, and interpretive facilities and manage the adjacent lands to enable the public to fully appreciate and use all national scenic and historic trails.

Decade Goal 3 – Capacity Building

Capacity building is closely tied to the goals of Outreach and Protection. This goal is about providing the underlying resources and systems needed to make public visibility and engagement and conservation of land and heritage possible. While projects directly related to the first two goals are typically viewed as priorities, taking the time to build the organizational infrastructure, establish strong volunteer programs, and develop critical partnerships and funding strategies makes those very projects possible.

Capacity building intertwines people, systems, and partnerships. Developing a volunteer recruitment program brings in manpower, and establishing a clear systematic approach to recording those increased volunteer hours in turn allows for attracting potential funding partners by demonstrating the value of the time volunteers are contributing.

Capacity building may come through hiring new staff, teaming up with a local university for credit internships, combining forces with like-minded organizations, or instituting a clear donor outreach program. It may double as outreach through marketing initiatives and media events to garner public support. Capacity building also impacts core organizational development through board member trainings and long-term growth strategy development, providing a strong foundation for pursuing the goals of each organization and the National Trails System as a whole.