In 1968, the National Trails System Act created the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as America’s first National Trail. Since then, Congress has established 29 more National Scenic and National Historic Trails that, when completed, will include nearly 60,000 miles of trails in all 50 states. This is by far the largest trail system in the world.
Of course, the A.T. is the best known and most heavily used of all the National Trails. However, the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide, Ice Age, and the North Country Trail, among others, are all attracting more long-distance and day hikers and have strong non-profit organizations working closely with their federal partners. Examples of National Historic Trails that represent and interpret important historic events include the Lewis & Clark, Santa Fe, Oregon & California, Trail of Tears, Selma to Montgomery, and the Overmountain Victory.
After I retired at the end of 2017 as the president/CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), my interest in and passion for protecting and managing trails led me to the Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS). PNTS is organized similarly to ATC: it represents and coordinates the non-profit partners for the 30 National Trails as the ATC does with 31 affiliated Trail clubs.
With the PNTS, I now organize and lead a multi-year National Trails campaign. During 2019, I worked with a team of experienced and talented conservation and trail leaders to create a multi-year National Trails Action Plan that includes four goals for protection and effective management of these trails:
Sustainable federal funding and support by the federal agency partners for trail operations & management
Increased state & local government support for land and resource protection and trail management
A National Trails communications strategy to promote National Trails as special feature of the American experience