“Mind The Gaps”

Backpacker Magazine, January 2017

In 1968, Congress established the National Trails System Act to bolster our nation’s growing network of long trails. But only one of our 11 marquee long paths is protected end-to-end. A new advocacy group aims to change that.
By William “BackpackerBill” Kemsley, Jr.

When I founded BACKPACKER in 1973, we led the way to get more trails built and protected. We took our cause to Congress a few years later, helping to secure a continuous right-of-way for the Appalachian Trail. To this day, of the 11 paths designated as National Scenic Trails, only the AT is entirely protected. It will never need to be rerouted around private land, forcing thru-hikers on cumbersome detours.

That’s not the case on the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and others. Large gaps exist; more than 200 miles of the PCT alone are on private land. Nonprofit trail organizations have tried for years to raise the money to buy permanent protection, but they don’t have the resources to get it done. Congress needs to follow through on its original promise and fund the trail system it established.

And it needs to do it now. As the number of hikers grows and boomers look for idyllic settings in which to retire, they’re straining the resolve of private landowners who let the long trails cross their lands. If they change their minds, we could end up hiking on pavement where Congress intended a footpath.

The best way to secure the future of our paths is to pressure Congress to fund the National Scenic Trails it established. A new group, Hiking Trails for America, was founded to do just that. We 37 million hikers comprise of the largest outdoor recreational groups in America and it’s time to make our voices heard. Sign the petition at www.hikingtrailsforamerica.org and let’s ensure our long trails are around as long as they ought to be: forever.

William “BackpackerBill” Kemsely, Jr. is retired and lives in the mountains of northern New Mexico. At age 89, he still hikes daily and blogs about it at williamkemsely.com

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