Each educational panel, signpost marking the way along a certified auto route and video or app you use to learn more about a National Scenic or Historic Trail involve hours of the collaboration of a host of skilled professionals, knowledgeable volunteers and others to create them. It is through these efforts that the public is afforded the opportunity to learn about nature, history and its culture while enjoying each of the 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails in the National Trails System. Education, interpretation, and providing space for cultural expression are at the heart of every National Trail experience. Each year, the nonprofit organizations and Federal agencies that construct, maintain, and promote National Scenic and Historic Trails continually expand their knowledge of the Trails they serve. In turn, they find new ways to interpret stories and engage the public through a variety of ways that appeal to a broad and diverse audience of trail users 2021 included some exciting developments in this area. Here are a few of the highlights.
On the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the National Park Service, National Trails office (NTIR) staff worked with an award-winning exhibit design and development firm and the Iowa Mormon Trail Association to develop 8 interpretive wayside exhibits and 2 upright exhibits for a 300-mile section of the Trail across the state of Iowa. The research completed for this project enhances the story of the Mormon exodus and illuminates the experience of Indigenous people and other communities on the Trail.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail to trade, the Santa Fe Trail Association (SFTA) created a portable ‘Santa Fe Trail 200th’ timeline exhibit. The two-sided exhibit measures 8 feet tall by 20 feet long and outlines historic developments along the Trail as well as information about the continued legacy and impact of the Trail through media, entertainment, education and preservation efforts. The timeline is on display at various venues to provide convenient access to communities along the Santa Fe Trail. Other activities commemorated the Trail’s anniversary, including a concert performed by the Kansas City Symphony south of Council Grove, Kansas, as well as the SFTA’s bicentennial symposium hosted by the Bent’s Fort Chapter of the SFTA outside of La Junta, Colorado. The Symposium featured educational speakers, live period entertainment including music and living history presentations and more.
The El Camino Real de Los Tejas National Historic Trail Association (ElCaT) also worked with the National Park Service, National Trails office (NTIR) and an award-winning design team to develop and install bilingual wayside exhibits in English and Spanish. Exhibits were installed at four locations from the Rio Grande on the US-Mexico border to the end of the Trail in Louisiana. NTIR worked with ElCaT, the Texas Department of Transportation, Zapata County, a private landowner, the Texas Historical Commission, and Louisiana State Parks to develop the content and install the exhibits.
At Cherokee Removal Memorial Park along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, NTIR, in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority, South East Tennessee Development District, and Trail of Tears Association, completed a project that funded the design and development a quarter-mile Trail of Tears NHT retracement trail and interpretive area at the historic Blythe Ferry site in Meigs County, Tennessee. This new trailhead and ADA trail is open for public visitation. Interpretive wayside signs will indicate the location where approximately 9,000 Cherokees, 500 Creeks and 127 slaves crossed the Hiawassee River on Blythe Ferry in 1838 as they left their homeland.
In addition to installing interpretive signage throughout the Bitterroot Valley of Montana along the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail (NPNHT), the Bitter Root Cultural Heritage Trust and the NPNHT have installed an app called “Agents of Discovery” with funding from the USDA Forest Service Washington Office. Currently, visitors have access to five ‘missions’ led by augmented reality guides through which they can learn about important historical sites in Montana including River Park, Historic St. Mary’s Mission, Travelers Rest State Park, and the Lake Como and Bass Creek Recreation Area. There is also one more mission in production for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Descent Trail.
After discovering Makahiki grounds along the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, the Ala Kahakai Trail Association (ATA) worked to bring school groups to the site to use it for traditional games associated with the celebratory season which runs from November to February. The goal is to build relationships with schools and encourage them to engage in traditional Hawaiian practices. The ATA taught students about the Trail in their area and to encourage them to visit the sites to strengthen their understanding of the Trail and what it represents to Native Hawaiians.
Students of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail‘s second Maritime Crafts Field School received hands-on training in traditional technologies and practices. Hosted by the Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown, Virginia, the field school met on the banks of the York River to explore Native American maritime technologies of the Chesapeake Bay. Participants split into groups and worked through six stations: burning a dugout canoe, hand-making cordage, constructing fishing nets, carving stone and bone tools, seining, or net fishing, and using traditional fishing tools. The lessons were recorded. You can see them at nps.gov/cajo/learn/photosmultimedia/maritime-crafts.htm.
A grant from the National Park Foundation’s Open Outdoors for Kids program enabled the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association (W3R-US) to develop materials about the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail for Title 1 schools in Virginia. This educational program brings to life the campaign march to Yorktown, where French and American soldiers marched together from Philipsburg, New York to Yorktown, Virginia before the siege of Yorktown that ultimately marked the end of the Revolutionary War.
W3R-US also developed an immersive “Be a Patriot—Or Not” educational program for fourth graders with a pilot presented in November 2021 at the Maryland Veterans Museum. Through another grant from the National Park Foundation, W3R-US is developing a travel app for high-potential sites and hubs along the Trail, as well as an historic map overlay for the current legislated driving route of the Trail. With these programs in place, students and residents will learn even more about the historic landmarks that are in their own backyard.
Multiple video projects were completed by the Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA) to help tell the story of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, including a five-minute vignette by the Association’s La Vereda del Norte Chapter funded by the Sangre De Cristo National Heritage Area which was the result of an oral history project about the Trail. OSTA also produced a video focused on the Mojave Desert portions of the Trail that was presented at the organization’s Las Vegas Conference and is archived at Southern Utah University at Cedar City, as well as a 25-minute video documenting the fabrication and installation of a steel mule caravan in silhouette made by volunteer Al Matheson and installed near Cliff Castle on Old Highway 91 in southwestern Utah.
Videos about the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail highlighted the Trail’s multi-cultural history. The Anza Trail and the Friends of the LA River created a 5-minute video centered on Indigenous voices in the Anza expedition narrative. Interviews with tribal representatives, Anza Trail scholars, and volunteers from the Los Angeles region reframed the history of the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition as a colonizing mission as opposed to one of exploration.
The Anza Trail also produced a documentary in partnership with the Border Community Alliance of southern Arizona called The Pilgrimage to Magdalena. This half-hour film tells the story of an annual pilgrimage that takes place every October in southern Arizona and northern Mexico to honor the late 17th-century missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, and his patron Saint, Francis Xavier. The film was featured in the Religion Today Film Festival in Trento, Italy, where it won top prize in the “Migrations and Coexistence” category.
In any given year, tens of thousands of people invest their time and talent to help make the 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails in the National Trails System more inviting and safer for diverse visitors while also attracting new trail users by increasing public awareness of the National Trails System. National Scenic and Historic Trails continue to see increased visitation and the dedicated professionals, volunteers and advocates who support the Trails continue to step up to ensure high quality experiences and to find creative ways to enhance the profile of Trails so that more people connect with National Trails.