Earlier this year, I set out to explore various public lands sites with the intention of increasing usership, awareness of, and advocacy for our open spaces. I also intended to thru-hike three trails during the course of the trip, but as this project took over my life, and reviews of giant swaths of land encompassed by National Monuments were ordered for possible reduction, I mostly found myself zipping all over the country by car instead. Because the threats to our public lands continue, I’m likewise continuing with my project. However, Public Lands Project 2.0 is going to be very different.
I like to hike; that’s kind of my thing. So, to honor the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968, I’m hiking a LOT. In total, around 7,000 miles of National Scenic and Recreation Trails, spending the better part of a year to do it. I’m starting with the Florida Trail, and as I sit here reviewing maps and gathering trail intel, my eye is twitching from anxiety and stress at the prospect of having to do hundreds of miles of road-walking to connect its disjointed parts. To my dismay, there will be almost 10 times more road-walking on the FT than I had to do on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is more than 1,000 miles longer.
Road walks are dangerous (yet curiously, also boring), and harder on the body than the trail. They eat your shoes, and your soul. Being forced out of the backcountry wilderness setting is jarring enough. Spitting out gravel and flotsam kicked up by logging trucks flying past within five feet at 60-70 mph as you cross a tiny bridge, for example, adds the very real possibility of injury to insult. And will likely cause you to experience something more akin to PTSD than fondness when you reflect back upon that particular memory of your “hike.” I’m going to suck it up, and do the road walks on the Florida Trail, because they are necessary to complete a true thru. But, I’d sure like to see it completed for future hikers. All of our National Scenic Trails should be as intended: off-road and closed to motorized use as much as possible. If you agree, and haven’t done so already, please take a moment to sign the petition to close the gaps and get them off the roads and onto protected rights-of-way. After all, that’s why we do these trails: to experience the quiet and solitude of the backcountry, enjoying the sights and vistas accessible only by walking to them, not to choke on exhaust fumes, jumping into the bushes on shoulders to avoid being hit by motorists who are seeing exactly the same things we are, just at 60 mph.
I’ll be offering up more guest and video blogs once I get started on the Florida Trail in December. In the meantime, happy trails, and safe hiking!
Michelle ‘SuperClassy’ Markel
Read more about Michelle’s work with public land projects across the country at supportpubliclands.com