This is the first post of the Centennial year of the National Park Service that will culminate in the birthday celebration August 25. In addition to pursuit of our project to document the personal stories of NPS rangers throughout the year, I'll be posting periodically on some of the more amazing and wonderful parts of our National Parks System...perhaps a few you might be introduced to for the first time.
The National Trails System Act was approved by Congress on October 2, 1968. The purpose of the act was to establish, under to aegis of the National Park Service, a series of historic trails that allow visitors to retrace the steps of pioneers, explore the three major mountain chains that exist on our continent, and pass through areas of our country of particular historic or cultural significance. 30 Trails are established under the act including this sampling:
The Appalachian Trail, in particular, represents a unique relationship between over 30 private trail clubs, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a not-for-profit coordinating agency who manages the trail under contract to the National Park Service, and in cooperation with the NPS and a variety of other Federal agencies including the National Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Conceived by urban planner Benton MacKaye in 1921, the Trail was finally protected in its entirety in 1971. Along with my great friend David Brill, I through-hiked the AT (walked its entire length in a single 5-month stretch) in 1979. Still the most popular mountain trail, the AT attracts millions of visitors each year, with approximately 3000 people likely to attempt a through hike in 2016. This is a substantial increase since our hike in the 70's, when less than 1000 people had completed the trail since its creation. Most National Scenic Trails exist in partnership with a private organization that advocates for trail protection, raises funds, builds and maintains sections of trail and promotes the expansion of the Trail system. See an interactive map of the entire AT.
A shorter, but equally intriguing trail system is the 450-mile Natchez Trace. The Trace was a trade route that extended from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS along the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. Created by native Americans, it was used by white traders, soldiers and migrants in journeys south and west of Nashville. Today the National Park Service maintains not only a series of walking trails along the historic route of the Natchez Trace, but also the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile limited-access parkway built during the Depression by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Today, in addition to the driving experience, hikers can walk any of 5 trails that make of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, totaling 60 miles of prairie, swamp and forest. Learn more about the Yockanookany Trail (say that five times fast...), the Potkopinu sunken trail, the Blackland Prairie Trail and other parts of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.
For a complete list of the entire National Trails System, click here.