You may remember that the president signed into law a budget submitted to him by the House back in early January. In that bill there was $28M of funding for the National Trails System. Funds are to come from the Land & Water Conservation Fund. The money was appropriated very specifically for various National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails.
The Florida Trail received not a dime of this money. Perhaps that’s not surprising since we have no executive director. His or her skills should include a familiarity with the halls of Congress, and he or she should know where Land & Water Conservation Fund budgets are worked up and how they flow into the budget the President signs.
The allocation of funds is surprising and gives some clue as to the effectiveness of various trail organizations around the country. The Nez Perce National Historic Trail in Idaho received $3M, over ten percent of the total sum. The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail in Hawaii received $2M. The Appalachian Trail received over $3M even though all the right-of-way has been acquired. But the surprising figure is the $4M awarded to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Those championing this late-comer to the National Trails System, I note, have deep roots in the Washington D.C. political environment. Hikers and hiking clubs around the country that maintain trails with gaps and access problems should consider this allocation as a wake-up call. (Write if you want the entire breakout of the LWCF’s $27,953,000.)
What concerns me is that members of trail clubs whose trails were anointed may be satisfied. I am writing this blog to suggest they should feel otherwise and to urge all the other trail clubs in America to hear the wake-up bell that’s ringing.
There are 34.5 million people in America that count hiking as a major form of recreation. By “major,” I mean that they participate in at least 18 such outdoor activities per year. Of 11 National Scenic Trails, only one, the Appalachian Trail, can claim a continuous footpath and reasonable access points to the trail. All others are discontinuous or have access problems. Imagine for a moment a highway, railroad, power line, canal, gas or oil line with gaps in its corridor. Imagine what that would do to its value and its use.
The hiking community must get serious about its gaps. “Aggressive” might be a better word. Hikers are a disparate and often passive group. I’m urging them to put on another hat and get on the phone. If you want to know who to call…. or write or visit …, let me know where you live.
Back to that total amount in the budget of $28M. Please let me put that into perspective. The federal government spent $200M buying trail right-of-way for over 700 miles of the A.T. from 1978 until just recently. Does that seem like a lot of money? That amount today would only pay for the construction of three large interchanges in the Florida interstate system. We have ten other National Scenic Trails waiting their turn for funds to buy right-of-way. They’ve been granted this special designation by Congress, but like poor sisters, they have been left in the kitchen, waiting for scraps.
I want to change this, and you can help. Congress should allocate $50M per year for a decade or two … or three to acquire gaps in the right-of-way of all trails in the National Scenic Trails. Let’s make this happen