The future of the National Trails System faces fundamental challenges

By Gary Werner, Executive Director, Partnership for the National Trails System

In 2018 as we began our year-long commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act, I briefly described these fundamental challenges that we in the National Trails System community face to fully realize the potential and expectations of our national scenic and historic trails.


  • Transforming the national scenic and historic trails from a collection of premier trails into a national public lands system like the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System or the National Wilderness System.
  • Completing the trails on the ground—closing the gaps in the scenic trails and preserving and interpreting all the “high potential sites and segments” along the historic trails.
  • Growing all of the national trail organizations to greatly enhance their capacity and resources and that of the Federal trail agencies to be able to fully develop and sustain the National Trails System.

Although our trail organizations and agencies and the national trails have developed significantly through 50 years of a staggering amount of effort by tens of thousands of dedicated people, in a very real sense we have barely just begun to realize the full potential of this remarkable idea. How we address the three challenges will determine whether the National Trails System succeeds to its full potential.

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Editor’s Note: These articles were previously published in the Spring 2018-2019 issues of Pathways Across America. 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.