By Liz Bergeron, PCTA Executive Director and CEO
As we turn the corner into 2018, we’ve arrived at an important milestone for the Pacific Crest Trail and other national scenic, historic and recreation trails across the country.
Fifty years ago, a conservation-minded nation came together to dedicate a national system of trails. In a tumultuous year of war, political assassinations, civil rights battles and cultural upheaval, President Lyndon Johnson and a near-unanimous Congress passed the National Trails System Act of 1968.
With all that was going on in America and around the world, they could easily have let trails fall by the wayside. But these leaders decided to lead by example. They seized a moment in time to build a lasting legacy regarding America’s amazing outdoor landscapes and what they provide in terms of recreation, public health, resource preservation and wildlife protection.
Development of the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails began decades before this important act was passed. But the legislation cemented their iconic status, brought new funding and introduced a sense of urgency and dedication. These first two national scenic trails led the way for nine others as well as 19 national historic trails and countless national recreation trails. Together, they represent the best of America’s trails for their scenic qualities and cultural and historical significance.
The beginning of this 50thanniversary year is a good time to think about what all this means and how we should put it into context. To me, it’s a perfect moment to stop and reflect on all we’ve accomplished to protect and preserve the PCT and, more importantly, what we still need to do.
Together we’ve built a sustainable association that relies on both government support and private donors to take care of and protect the PCT. Our dedicated volunteers work selflessly to maintain the trail so others can enjoy a world-class hiking and horseback riding experience through 48 wilderness areas and some of the most beautiful wild places in the world. State and federal land managers in Washington, Oregon and California keep the PCT high on their list of priorities as they manage competing interests for our vast public lands. This community is a true team working together.
Yet even with all that positive energy, the PCT faces many threats, from an attempt by a fringe group of mountain bikers to open all American wilderness to mechanized travel to the potential shrinking of the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon to extreme weather events and wildfires exacerbated by climate change.
So while we pause to celebrate 50 years of our national trails system and the work we’ve done to improve and protect the PCT experience, we must also rededicate ourselves to the cause and never take it for granted. It’s a mission we should undertake together. We should continue nurturing strong alliances with our government, nonprofit and corporate partners to ensure the trail is well-cared for and managed. We must continue to recruit new volunteers and provide great training and support to all our volunteers so they can do their best work. We must continue our effort to protect the last 10 percent of the trail still on private property by transferring it to public ownership. And we must continue building our association’s strength and ability to respond to anything that threatens the trail and the experience it provides hikers and horseback riders.
I often think about the ongoing work of taking care of the trail as well as all that needs to be done to ensure future generations have the same chance to enjoy it that we’ve had. We, too, live in tumultuous times, with an overseas war raging, political polarization and the uncertainty of how to address a changing climate. Our nation will always need places like the PCT to escape life’s stresses and seek refuge and rejuvenation.
What will the PCT community accomplish over the next 50 years? While only some of you may still be around to celebrate 100 years of the PCT and the National Trails System Act in 2068, all of you are the trail’s standard bearers today — the key to its longevity.
What kind of legacy do we want to leave to future volunteers, agency partners, donors, members, hikers, horseback riders and nature lovers who might pause on this day a half-century from now to contemplate the PCT’s past and future? How do we want to be remembered as stewards of the PCT by the next generation?