Back in March, I set out from California with plans to explore various public lands sites with local guides before thru-hiking the Pinhoti and Appalachian Trails. I thought it would be a great project to promote diversity in and increase advocacy for our public lands. Well, it’s now late June, and I’m not on the AT, or any other trail. Why? After getting as far as Big Cypress National Preserve in southern Florida, I heard about Executive Order 13792 directing the Department of the Interior to review all National Monuments greater than 100,000 acres designated since 1996.
This includes 22 sites encompassing a whopping 11,335,909 acres of public lands, and all but one are in the western states. Instead of getting on trail, I headed back west to visit as many of these monuments as possible while the public commenting period regarding them is open.
Would I rather be thru-hiking? Well, yeah, of course. People often say, “the trail will always be there,” usually as consolation to an aspiring thru who’s had to postpone a hike or get off trail early. But, this is only true if the ground underneath it is still open to public access.
This order has potential implications for two of the Triple Crown trails: the AT passes through Katahdin Woods and Waters, and the PCT through Sand to Snow, San Gabriel Mountains, and Cascade / Siskiyou. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has already recommended that Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be reduced, and that multiple areas within it be re-designated. It seems likely that similar recommendations will be made for other sites, particularly if it means a potential opportunity to open them up for drilling or mining operations (in his brief post-“listening tour” press conference at Bears Ears, Zinke mentioned the presence of uranium there no less than three times).
I love hiking, and if you’re reading this, you probably do too. The vast majority of our trails are on public lands, and in order to build new trail and preserve the existing ones, the land underneath them must be protected. Access to public lands is one of the few remaining democratic institutions we have in the United States: they are truly open and available to each and every one of us.
The trails don’t have millions of dollars to lobby or lawyer up to advocate for themselves, nor do the deserts, forests, swamps, and mountains they pass through. So, it’s up to us – all of us who love them, love wild, open, free spaces – to stand up and speak for them.
The commenting period for the monuments under review ends July 10. Please take a moment to follow this link and make your voice heard, and I’ll see you up-trail! https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001
~ Michelle ‘SuperClassy’ Markel
Public Lands Project: http://www.supportpubliclands.com