Long-distance trails are as ancient as the seasonal migration routes of hunter-gatherers. And, as you probably know, famous emigrant routes, such as the Oregon Trail, populated America’s vast West. Only relatively recently did hikers develop long-distance, recreational trails. Vermont’s Long Trail dates from 1910 and the Appalachian Trail from 1921.
In 1970, two years after the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail were designated by Congress as the nation’s first two “national scenic trails”, a Georgetown University student named Ron Strickland envisioned such a trail from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. Over the next few years Ron poured over maps, hiked segments, and recruited volunteers. In 1977, he founded the Pacific Northwest Trail Association to develop, preserve, and protect the Pacific Northwest Trail. In 1977, five Oregonians became the trail’s first thru-hikers. We published our first book-length guidebook in 1984.
As described in Ron’s memoir Pathfinder, the process of securing a congressional mandate for the PNT began in 1974 when Seattle congressman Joel Pritchard introduced a “study bill” in the US House of Representatives. In 1980, that legislation culminated in a joint Park Service-Forest Service report stating that creation of the PNT was neither feasible nor desirable.
Ron nevertheless continued to pursue his vision of creating America’s most scenic trail. For instance, in the mid-80s, he recruited a platoon of British Army regulars to build PNT segments (on DNR land) on Blanchard Hill overlooking Samish Bay. That example typifies the bedrock Pacific Northwest Trail philosophy that volunteers are the key to development and maintenance. From the PNT’s inception until today we have sought maximum recreational and scenic excellence.
Our trail also has a very large educational component. In 2000, after passage of the Secure Rural Schools Act, we worked with local school districts, and we received Title II monies from the United States Forest Service. Our Service Knowledge Youth (SKY) Program taught young people valuable skills through trail construction and maintenance. This program continues to flourish as a major part our public outreach.
In 2008, Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Maria Cantwell introduced legislation to add the Pacific Northwest Trail to the National Trails System. Each of our counties and states rallied behind that effort. On March 30, 2009, President Obama signed our bill into law. In August 2015, the US Forest Service established the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Committee of non-federal volunteers. The Council will make recommendations on the administration and management of the PNNST that will inform a comprehensive plan.
In 2017, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association will celebrate four decades of leadership in conservation and outdoor recreation. We invite you to come along with us on the journey.