Trails For All Americans

The Report of the National Trails Agenda Project Submitted By American Trails to the National Park Service

What would it take for all Americans to be able to go out their front doors and within fifteen minutes be on trails that wind through their cities, towns or villages and bring them back without retracing steps?

by National Park Service

Along the way they could pass shops and restaurants, go to work, school or a park, visit an historic site or the zoo, and experience the great outdoors without a car or bus. If they were to follow the right path, the trail could take them into the countryside or possibly link up with another trail that would lead them into the deepest wilderness or lo the highest mountain or across the widest prairie. They could travel across America on trails that connect one community to another and stretch from coast to coast, and from border to border.

Such a network of trails was endorsed in '1987 by the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors when it called for a nationwide system of greenways within easy access of all Americans. However, the Commission also raised a major challenge when it noted,"Decisions made between now and the year 2000 will determine the fate of America's remaining land and water resources." The ability to create a national system of trails depends on land-use decisions being made every day.

The critical task today is thinking about trails in the context of whole systems and making land-use decisions that explicitly consider connecting the trails, selling aside land to allow connections, thinking systematically about trails, linear parks a nd greenways, and acting now because decisions made in this decade will determine the long- term fate of essential resources.

In 1988, the National Trails Agenda Project was initiated as a co- operative venture between the National Park Service and American Trails (a non-profit, broadly based trails coalition) to look at trail issues and develop recommendations to satisfy America's current and future need for trails. To form a national system, trails must be viewed as part of the nation's physical infrastructure and included along with highways, utility and sewer lines, airports, and other public facilities as part of the general conduct of everyday governance; trails must be seen in the larger context of the corridors and environments through which they pass; corridor protection must be the primary goa l; and the highest priority in developing such a system must be in close-to-home areas, particularly where resources are closest to population centers. To develop a system all land and water-based resources must be assumed to have trail potential.

This report is directed toward an audience that includes all levels of government, the business community, private organizations and user groups, and every American citizen. Only through coordinated action can the ever-changing outdoor recreation needs of the nation be met and the diverse objectives for open space, physical fitness, natural and cultural diversity, education, transportation, and economic development be fulfilled.

The creation of a true national system of trails beg ins with all Americans in their own backyards - in neighborhoods and communities, in churches, schools and social organizations, in cities and towns, in every county and state. All Americans are called upon to act immediately to safeguard trail resources.

Attached document published July 1990

About the Author


The National Park Service (NPS) was created in 1916 and today manages over 390 units found in all 50 states and some of the U.S. territories. NPS supports and operates trails in three interlocking arenas: trails in parks, technical assistance to States and communities, and administration of much of the National Trails System.

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