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Federal Programs and Legislation

Partnership for the National Trails System supports national scenic and historic trails

Gary Werner, Chair, Partnership for the National Trails System
February 1996

The Partnership for the National Trails System represents the collective interests of the organizations of trail volunteers working in partnership with federal agencies to preserve, protect, develop and maintain America's 19 national scenic and historic trails. Formed during the 2nd National Conference on Scenic and Historic Trails in 1991, the Partnership is the way that these organizations work together for the common benefit of the National Trails System. Sixteen trail organizations are represented in the Partnership.

The Partnership serves the organizations of this national trail community by:

  • providing a forum for discussion of shared issues and development of collective policy initiatives;
  • coordinating communication among the trail organizations;
  • providing advocacy for the trails and organizations to the federal government;
  • promoting support for the National Trails System among corporations, non-profit organizations, and the charitable giving community;
  • organizing leadership and other training programs to enable the volunteers and staffs of the member organizations to work more effectively on behalf of their trails;

The work of the Partnership is guided by a small professional staff and supported through assessments from the member organizations, contributions from individual and corporate supporters, and foundation grants.

The National Trails System is predicated on dynamic partnerships between the federal government and private organizations of citizen volunteers to build, maintain, manage and protect the public trails. The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management administer the national scenic and historic trails in direct partnership with at least one private organization for each trail. State and local governmental agencies are additional partners for some of the national scenic and historic trails. Much of the on the ground management of these trails is in the hands of citizen volunteers, unlike the management of most national parks, forests and wildlife areas.

For the partnerships sustaining the national scenic and historic trails to thrive requires consistent funding for both the public and private partners. Thus, a primary goal of the Partnership for the National Trails System is to secure adequate annual funding for the federal agencies and for the partner trail organizations. An annual task is to remind Congress of the nation's heritage embodied in the National Trails System, the benefits of these trails to communities across the land, and the high return of volunteer and local governmental contributions generated by the modest federal investment supporting these trails; all to insure that adequate federal funds are appropriated again to sustain the Trails System.

Only about one-half of the authorized 38,000 mile length of the 19 national scenic and historic trails are open for public use. Only two of the eight national scenic trails are complete for walking end to end and many important sites along the 11 national historic trails are not available for public enjoyment. Another primary goal of the Partnership for the National Trails System is the preservation of all the important historical sites along the national historic trails and of continuous scenic corridors for the national scenic trails.

To complete this system of trails reaching into 44 states will require consistent funding from federal, state and local governments and private donors for acquisition of historic sites and trailway through the next several decades. The federal Land & Water Conservation Fund is a critical source for a major component of the necessary funding. Land & Water Conservation Fund appropriations have been used by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to purchase a permanent, scenic corridor for the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails.

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

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