In March 2021, PNTS and its long-time partner, the American Hiking Society, led the 24th annual Hike the Hill® as a virtual event. Even a pandemic couldn’t hinder Hike the Hill®, nor could it hamper participants’ enthusiasm or the event’s efficacy.
What is normally a week-long, in-person affair occurred over the course of three weeks of virtual meetings. Hike the Hill® featured eight briefing sessions to help prepare participants for individual meetings with Federal agency representatives and members of Congress, seven meetings with federal agency leaders, and five meetings with Congressional Committee staff.
Meetings were framed in a way that reflected key priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration concerning climate resilience, economic recovery, COVID-19 recovery, and equity. Increased support and funding for the NTS can help the new administration achieve their goals in these areas in the following ways:
Prioritizing the acquisition of the nearly 20,000 miles of still-unprotected NTS trails, as well as additional side trails and viewsheds, can advance the “30 by 30” initiative, which aims to protect 30 percent of America’s land and freshwater resources by the year 2030 for climate resiliency.
Making National Trails more accessible and welcoming to all visitors and prioritizing opportunities to better represent America’s indigenous and tribal communities and its cultural diversity.
Providing increasingly popular outdoor recreational space and public health benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supporting economic recovery efforts, particularly in rural “trail towns” and urban neighborhoods that receive tourism dollars from the NTS visitors.
This year’s Hike the Hill® also included increased participation by some up-and-coming voices. In addition to a NextGen Meet n’ Greet Luncheon facilitated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s NextGen Advisory Council, two PNTS Trail Apprentices were featured during meetings with agency leadership: 27-year-old Robin Bruns of Clifton Forge, VA spoke at the US Forest Service meeting with Chief Vicki Christiansen, and 26-year-old Nathan Begay of Albuquerque, NM took the floor during a meeting with Bureau of Land Management leadership.
Though the 2021 Hike the Hill® event officially ended on March 25, as always, PNTS’ advocacy work continues. This year’s virtual event was a challenge we were excited to tackle. We look forward to the next year of action and advocacy with all of you, as well as our next opportunity to Hike the Hill® together.
PNTS Trail Apprentices Robin Bruns (left) and Nathan Begay (right) spoke during virtual leadership meetings for the annual Hike the Hill® event. Both photos courtesy of the subjects.