National Trails Day
Millions of people hike, bike, or ride horses on them; in winter, they drive snowmobiles or ski. They're even used for walking to work, getting groceries, or just enjoying the outdoors. They're not roads, and they don't require a car. They're trails—and chances are your town has plenty of them nearby. But have you ever stopped to think about how trails are created and maintained?
Well, it's about time you found out. The first Saturday in June (this year, June 2) is National Trails Day, a national event founded and organized by the American Hiking Society. Started in 1993 as a way to raise awareness for our trails, Trails Day last year drew nearly a million participants to over 3,000 events in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.
Consider these numbers: According to the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors, 155 million people walk on trails for pleasure, 93 million bike, and 50 million hike. Ten million folks ride horses, five million backpack, and 11 million ski on America's paths. That's a lot of people, using a lot of trails—trails that need your help in order to remain usable and beautiful.
This year's theme is "Save the Trails: For Your Community." "We've seen a tremendous increase in demand for trails and open space in communities of all sizes," said Mary Margaret Sloan, president of AHS. "In growing suburbs, community pathways can be as important to community infrastructure as roads because they provide immediate escape into the natural world away from cars and highways." In some suburban communities, such trails are even planned and used as a form of transportation, allowing residents to run errands or get from place to place without relying on a car.
In small towns or rural areas, the need—and demand—for trails is just as high. "There is an emerging understanding here that healthy lifestyles and access to the outdoors go hand in hand," said Lu Schrader, president of the West Virginia Trails Coalition. The state has included trails in its public health program.
The American Hiking Society created the National Trails Endowment in 1998 as yet another facet in the plan to protect America's trails. Over $40,000 is awarded each year to nonprofit organizations involved with building and maintaining trails, and even three of the biggies—the Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Appalachian Trail—have benefited from NTE grants.
Local trail societies and AHS rely on volunteers to help create, clean, and maintain trails across the country. Most trail clubs need help with maintenance, with the Southeast and Midwest particularly needing help. In addition, a new system in the southern Appalachians is currently under construction—the Pine Mountain Trails in Kentucky, Pinhoti Trail in Alabama and Georgia, Mountains to the Sea Trail in North Carolina, Palmetto Trail in South Carolina, and Cumberland Trail in Tennessee will eventually link together. So pitch in if you live near any of these growing greenways—there's plenty of work to be done.
If you're in the mood for a little travel, consider a Volunteer Vacation with AHS. For one or two weeks, you'll get to live in the backcountry in exchange for helping out with the trails. The number of people participating on Volunteer Vacations increased dramatically in 2000, with 605 individuals donating their time. The youngest volunteer was 14, and the oldest 80; these intrepid folk worked a total of 24,200 volunteer hours, worth about $310,728 in labor costs. That's quite a chance to make a difference!
Trails Day is the only national event honoring trails. Participants can attend trail dedications, workshops, and educational exhibitions, take horseback and bike rides, do some paddling, hike, and pitch in with a little trail maintenance—check your city or town for more information on what's happening this year.
Happy Trails to you this June 2nd! Get out there and blaze a path—literally.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication