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National Trails System celebrates 40th anniversary

We should dedicate ourselves to a "Decade for the National Trails" leading to the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System in 2018.
Read more facts and history of the National Trails System and comments by Stewart Udall.

By Pam Gluck


October 2, 2008, marks the 40th anniversary of passage of the National Trails System Act. This Act opened the door to federal involvement in trails of all types, from city centers to remote backcountry. Virtually every trail in the country has benefited from the Act and many trail initiatives over the last 40 years can find their roots in it.

American Trails is very pleased to have joined with the Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS), the American Hiking Society, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, other trail organizations, and federal partners that manage and support trails in the National Trails System to plan the events for this anniversary year. In looking to the future, a 10-year initiative called the "Decade of Trails" is being launched this year to bring attention to and gain support for completing and enhancing the entire National Trails System.

The kick-off event for the year-long Anniversary celebration was held at the Natural Resources Council of America's annual Awards Banquet on February 13 in Washington, DC. The PNTS co-sponsored the event with the Council this year.

It was a lovely event and recognized Stewart Udall, then Secretary of Interior, for his contributions to key conservation victories, and a special tribute to the late Senator Gaylord Nelson. The NRCA also presented their prestigious Lifetime Service award to honor Gary Werner, PNTS Executive Director.

photo kid at entrance to tunnel

"Scaring the Monsters from the Tunnel" -- Elroy-Sparta National Recreation Trail and Rail Trail, WI --photo by Greg Walther


Additional celebration events, such as National Trails Day, are being scheduled throughout the year. The closing event, American Trails' 19th National Trails Symposium, will be held in Little Rock, Arkansas, November 15-18, 2008. The theme of the Symposium is "Innovative Trails: Transforming the American Way of Life." These National Trails have truly transformed our country.

Every kind of trail activity is represented in the list of designated National Trails. Besides hiking and biking, the system includes water trails, motorized routes, snow tracks, greenways, and equestrian paths. These trails showcase the diversity of trails across America, from our cities and suburbs to the deserts, waterways, and high mountains.

People of all ages and abilities benefit from making trails an active part of everyday life. Trails provide countless opportunities for healthful recreation in the fight against obesity.

These trails connect our communities. Trails are a great way to get us out of our cars and link our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. Creating systems of greenways and trails help make our communities more livable and bring families and friends closer together. Trails help our kids develop life-long habits of good health and promote stewardship of the land. Trails are a source of renewal and spiritual value for people across America.

Although steady progress has been made to transform these trails from lines on maps to places in the landscape for people to learn from and enjoy, at the current pace it will be decades before most of them will be fully available for public use.

To fully realize the promise of the National Trails System for public benefit we should dedicate ourselves to a "Decade for the National Trails" leading to the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System in 2018. Over this Decade we should:

  • Raise public awareness of the National Trails System so that it becomes well known to every citizen and community in the United States.
  • Complete and enhance the designated National Trails for public appreciation and enjoyment.
  • Build the capacity of federal agencies to better manage and sustain National Scenic, Historic, and Recreation Trails, as well as Rail Trails.
  • Enhance the capacity of non-profit organizations to be able to continue to recruit, train, and supervise ever more volunteer stewards of the National Trails forming a nationwide network of community-based natural and cultural resource stewardship.

Come join the celebration at the 2008 National Trails Symposium ~ learn about the National Trails System successes and lessons learned, share stories of the trails, plan for the future of the System, visit exhibits, experience the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and celebrate this 40-year milestone at the American Trails Awards Banquet. You will walk away with a new awareness of the significance of these trails as national treasures. We hope to see you there!

For more information on the National Trails System and its 40-Year Anniversary:

More resources for National Scenic and Historic Trails

Resources from our partners:

National Park Service site for the National Trails System

Interview with Steve Elkinton, Program Leader for the National Trails System

40th Anniversary Parade of Trails

Join American Trails


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