Trails for America

A 1966 study headed by Stuart Udall on the feasibility of a National Trails System

by National Park Service

In April 1965 Secretary Udall requested the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation to take the lead in a nationwide trails study. This assignment was made in response to President Johnson's Natural Beauty Message of February 8, 1965, in which he called for development and protection of a balanced system of trails — in the Nation's metropolitan areas as well as in the countryside — in cooperation with State and local governments and private interests.

He called for such a trail system to help protect and enhance the total quality of the outdoor environment as well as to provide much needed opportunities for healthful outdoor recreation.

The President said:

The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle. For them we must have trails as well as highways. Nor should motor vehicles be permitted to tyrannize the more leisurely human traffic.

Old and young alike can participate. Our doctors recommend and encourage such activity for fitness and fun.

I am requesting, therefore, that the Secretary of the Interior work with his colleagues in the Federal Government and with State and local leaders and recommend to me a cooperative program to encourage a national system of trails, building up the more than hundred thousand miles of trails in our national forests and parks.

There are many new and exciting trail projects underway across the land. In Arizona, a county has arranged for miles of irrigation canal banks to be used by riders and hikers. In Illinois, an abandoned railroad right-of-way is being developed as a "Prairie Path." In Mexico utility rights-of-way are used as public trails.

As with so much of our quest for beauty and quality, each community has opportunities for action. We can and should have an abundance of trails for walking, cycling, and horseback riding, in and close to our cities. In the back country we need to copy the great Appalachian Trail in all parts of America, and to make full use of rights-of-way and other public paths.

A four-member Steering Committee was appointed to conduct the study. The Steering Committee, representing four Federal agencies, consisted of: Daniel M. Ogden, Jr., Assistant Director for Planning and Research, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Department of the Interior, chairman; Hamilton K. Pyles, Deputy Chief, Forest Service, Department of Agriculture; Theodore L. Swem, Assistant Director, Cooperative Activities, National Park Service, Department of the Interior; and Eldon F. Holmes, Chief, Recreational Staff, Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior.

In formulating a nationwide trails program, the Steering Committee's objectives were to:

  1. Describe existing trail systems.
  2. Assess the adequacy of existing trail programs to serve present and prospective users.
  3. Suggest the appropriate role for the Federal Government, State governments, local governments, and private interests in providing new recreation trails.
  4. Recommend Federal legislation to foster development of a balanced and adequate Nationwide System of Trails.

Published September 16, 1966

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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