“With increased use, the trails need more regular maintenance and cleaning, so we need more volunteers,” said Kate Van Waes, executive director of the American Hiking Society.
The 30th National Trails Day is June 4. Led by American Hiking based in Silver Spring, Maryland, with partner agencies and organizations, the day is an occasion to celebrate and steward trails and public lands. There will be more than 330 events, including guided walks, performances, clean-ups and music festivals. Anyone, whether a sidewalk explorer or a long-distance trail hiker, can participate.
In 2019, National Trails Day set a world trail service record, with 1,164 events and 41,424 participants. And despite the coronavirus pandemic, last year it had 565 events, 36,398 participants and 274 kilometers of improvements. (The 2020 celebration was cancelled.)
About 10 events are planned in the Washington area, including a family hike through Rock Creek Park being organized by American Hiking board member Tiffanny Williams. Williams started walking after an injury sidelined her from competitive racing. In 2019, she started a group of women of color, Honeydipped Hikers, to share her enthusiasm for nature and help make trails accessible and attractive to everyone, especially people who might not otherwise feel welcome.
Williams coordinates three to four meetings a month, with 10 to 15 women joining each walk. “Most of the women who come to us for the first time have little or no hiking or trail experience, so they are very excited,” she said. “Afterwards, they are so happy they came and look forward to the next walk.”
Taking care of kilometers and kilometers of trails
Numerous federal, state, local, and private landowners manage trails and maintain their own data, making total mileage difficult to calculate. American Trails, a nonprofit organization that promotes trail and greenway development, conservatively estimates that about 1.069 million miles of trails stretch across the country. That’s about 43 times around the planet, more than two round trips to the moon or 1,425 pairs of worn-out hiking boots, assuming a 750-mile lifespan.
About 194,100 miles of trails are on federal land, with the US Forest Service owning 158,000 miles, the most of any federal agency. States manage 350,000 miles and local and private agencies another 525,000 miles.
Trails can be found on city sidewalks (the Asheville Urban Trail in North Carolina), through spectacular scenery (the Appalachian National Scenic Trail), or in the footsteps of history (the Selma to Selma National Historic Trail). Montgomery in Alabama). The National Trails System, established in 1968, is a great resource for finding some of the most iconic trails in the country.
Serving all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts
According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2021 Outdoor Engagement Trends report, 57.8 million Americans are hikers, but the trail community is even broader. Mountain bikers, runners, horseback riders, skiers, climbers, and just about everyone who enjoys the outdoors uses some type of trail. Paddlers may use water trails, including those in the National Recreation System.
Machiko Yasuda, who hikes in California’s Angeles National Forest and now helps engage volunteers, emphasized the variety of outdoor enthusiasts who interact with nature and each other when using the trails. “There are bird watching groups, native plant groups, mountain biking trail maintenance groups, all kinds of groups. It is a welcoming committee for people who want to learn about all these parts of the forest.”
Since being captivated by waterfalls and a rattlesnake during her first hike in the San Gabriel Mountains, Yasuda has introduced about 30 of her friends in the area. Many of her favorite hikes connect public transportation with local roads that lead to rural trails and even the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which winds through California, Oregon and Washington.
Savoring solitude on the Pacific Crest Trail
On National Trails Day, Yasuda will be at the Angeles National Forest’s Cobb Estate trailhead, distributing management kits that include trash collectors, trash bags, and maps reflecting wildfire-related route changes, and will highlight the new Trail Angeles site that connects volunteers with projects in the San Gabriel Mountains and National Forest, where use has skyrocketed in popular destinations like the Eaton Canyon Trail during the pandemic.
Deal with dizzying use
Trail-related activities like hiking have been growing in popularity for more than a decade, but have skyrocketed during the pandemic, more than doubling in some areas. The Outdoor Participation Trends report found that in 2020, 160.7 million Americans ages 6 and older participated in at least one outdoor activity, an increase of 7.1 million from 2019.
Those numbers remain high. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy found that, in 2021, trail use remained 36 percent higher than in 2019, including on the 2,297 rail trails across the country.
“Especially over the last couple of years, more people have realized the importance of getting out and discovering their local trails, as well as keeping them clean and funded,” said Van Waes of American Hiking. “Just being outside and moving around on your own provides both physical and mental health benefits.”
Trails do more than create healthier communities; boost tourism and economic growth. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, 4.3 million jobs depend on the $689 billion outdoor recreation industry.
But that, in turn, encourages more use, which puts a stress on public lands, especially in places where an influx of inexperienced and unprepared trail users has damaged fragile areas and created debris, as well as infrastructure problems, parking and security, which puts a burden on administrators and other users. and search and rescue operations.
These challenges underscore the need for volunteers who can perform vital educational and remedial work, as well as help land managers mitigate the already substantial effects of climate change-driven wildfires, storms, droughts and erosion.
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Rebeca Rodríguez is one of those volunteers. Her experience hiking popular Phoenix trails led her to help build new non-motorized segments along the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which stretches 800 miles through Arizona between its Utah and Mexican borders.
“The trails are much busier, so we have to increase our responsibility in terms of keeping them clean and leaving no trace,” said Rodríguez, who has volunteered for six years. “Through volunteering, I get to be outdoors, meet great people who care about public lands, and learn about parts of Arizona I wouldn’t have explored on my own.”
Improve access to trails.
Another volunteer focus is the disparity in access to the outdoors that still keeps people off the trails. A 2021 report by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land found that majority and minority neighborhoods have about half the park space of majority white neighborhoods. And according to the Outdoor Participation Trends report, nearly 75 percent of outdoor participants are white. People with lower incomes may lack transportation to trails, and many trails are not accessible to people with disabilities.
National Trails Day participants are working to overcome these barriers. In Evergreen, Colo., a team of about 100 volunteers will create a 16,000-foot loop trail in Elk Meadow Park that accommodates mobility devices.
“Even small things can make a big difference, and these barriers can be easily addressed for our visitors who experience disabilities,” said Mathew Martinez, Jefferson County Volunteer Services Specialist.
Building a trail is just one option to help. Volunteering can be as simple as picking up trash on your hikes, following Leave No Trace principles, donating, participating in maintenance days, or supporting legislation that protects public lands and increases funding and access to trails, such as the of Transit to the Trails. AmeriCorps and volunteer.gov offer opportunities, and American Hiking offers volunteer vacations and has a list of over 200 organizations that engage people with responsibility.
“Take a look at what’s in your local area,” Martinez said. “Often people go out for the mission and then stay for the community they join.”
Williams is a writer who lives in Oregon. his website is erinewilliams.com.