The National Trails System: 2020 – “Six Feet Apart, But Closer Than Ever.”

Recently, I read an article that featured responses to a request for people to summarize 2020 in a word or a phrase. Contributions varied wildly, often reflecting the strain and uncertainty so many of us experienced in 2020. My favorite response was a phrase commonly used throughout the year, “six feet apart, but closer than ever”. While some of the ensuing online comments dissented, noting social distancing, remote schooling, unrest and any number of other divisions, the message rang true for many others who noted spending more time with their families and banding together to face seemingly insurmountable challenges.

In so many ways, 2020 showed us the value of connections. Even as we physically distanced, we still found ways to remain in touch and to work and learn collaboratively. The value of connection is at the core of Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS). From our humble origins as a program linking a small group of trail organizations, PNTS has grown in membership and strength because it brings together trail advocates and leaders. It is a forum for collaboration and exchange, a resource, and a collective voice for National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails.

In this issue of Pathways Across America, you’ll see highlights that showcase the spirit and perseverance of the National Trails community. Despite a pandemic, devastating forest fires, abrupt changes to work norms and trail visitation, and any number of professional and personal challenges, you will hear stories of progress and innovation, and you’ll see more than a few smiling faces. While this issue contains some examples of the ways our members and partners came together through PNTS, such as during Hike the Hill® or our first virtual workshop, what is more difficult to capture is the culture of collaboration that I see daily as ideas and resources are shared, plans for collective action are made, and people go above and beyond their daily work to lend their time and expertise to individual trails and the National Trails System as a whole.

As we take this time to reflect in 2020, it is clear that the National Trails community is unstoppable. With National Trails in each state, the members and partners of PNTS may be far apart spatially, but we are strong because of our connections to one another.

All the best,

Valerie Rupp

2024 National Trails Workshop Call for Proposals Open