Each February, advocates from the Partnership for the National Trails System, the American Hiking Society, and the member organizations and affiliates who represent our 30 national scenic and historic trails assemble in Washington DC to Hike the Hill.
This year, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association was represented by Executive Director, Jeff Kish and Senior Consultant, Mike Dawson, who visited the 6 Senate offices and 13 House offices that represent the states of Montana, Idaho, and Washington, as well as the headquarters of the Forest Service and National Park Service.
Public–private partnership on the PNT
PNTA representatives demonstrated the organization’s power to leverage volunteerism and the financial support of members, donors and corporate sponsors to exponentially increase the federal return on investment in the Pacific Northwest Trail.
While showcasing the strength and recent successes that the PNTA has brought to this unique public/private partnership, Association representatives also advocated for stronger partnerships through increased federal budget support for the PNT’s administering agency, the Forest Service, and partner agencies including the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Committee (PNNSTAC)
With so much of the future development of the PNT contingent on the recommendations of the legislatively mandated Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Committee, PNTA representatives urged Senate and House involvement to reinvigorate the effort to renew the PNNSTAC charter within the Department of Agriculture.
The recommendations of the PNNSTAC will be used to inform the Forest Service’s development of the PNT Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). The CMP will include vital management direction including the desired conditions for the user experience and the criteria by which future trail development projects should be examined.
The Forest Service held the first meeting of the PNNSTAC on October 14th, 2015. The committee held its last meeting on November 3rd, 2016 and its charter was allowed to lapse along with all other federal advisory committees in the Department of Agriculture at the time.
The PNT and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
A continuing theme this year was to build on previous successes to permanently authorize and robustly fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For over fifty years, LWCF has provided vital funding to protect irreplaceable lands, and create access to outdoor recreation opportunities in nearly every state, including Montana, Idaho and Washington.
Last year, during the Association’s annual public advocacy trip, the Senate approved permanent reauthorization of LWCF through the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. In the following weeks, the bill passed in the House and was signed into law by the President. This year, PNTA representatives urged House and Senate offices to make mandatory the funding mechanism for LWCF, which would dedicate $900 million annually in offshore oil and natural gas royalties to the program.
As one of America’s newest National Scenic Trails, the Pacific Northwest Trail could greatly benefit from permanent protection through LWCF investment. While 80% of the trail corridor falls on public lands, remaining areas include a significant amount of private property where access may be revoked at any time.
Voluntary sales of private parcels like these, funded through LWCF, will help ensure permanent access to the Pacific Northwest Trail and improve public safety by reducing the amount of the trail which currently follows open roads.
Protecting our Parks (and other public lands)
A new effort that PNTA representatives took on this year was to build support on the Hill for the Restore our Parks Act. While restoring base appropriations to pre-sequestration levels would allow the PNTA’s federal land management agency partners to make the necessary investments to hold the line on further deterioration of National Trails System trails, additional investment will be needed to address the growing backlog.
The Senate version of the bill would go a long way to address the maintenance backlog on National Park Service lands. The House version of the bill is better, having been expanded to include other Department of Interior lands, but with more than half of the Pacific Northwest Trail on Forest Service land, PNTA representatives advocated assertively for inclusion of Forest Service system trails to the bill in the lead up to its passage.
Meeting with National Park Service leadership
Over 240 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail system are located in Glacier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks. PNTA staff and other trail leaders met with the Director of the National Park Service, David Vela, to discuss the public/private shared stewardship of America’s National Parks and the trails that link them together.
In 2020, PNTA will expand its youth service programs into Washington’s National Parks to help ensure that the PNT is maintained for the enjoyment of all. This extension of our Performance Trail Crew program will provide local youth and young adults—who may not otherwise have a clear path to spending time outdoors—with the opportunity to discover spectacular new places on our public lands while working on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Meeting with Forest Service leadership
The US Forest Service manages the nation’s largest public trail system, including 10,000 miles of national scenic and historic trails. Over 600 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail are located on seven National Forests in Montana, Idaho and Washington.
During the 23rd Annual Hike the Hill Event, the Association’s Executive Director, Jeff Kish met with national recreation and trails leadership at the United States Forest Service headquarters to provide an annual briefing on the Pacific Northwest Trail Association’s many recent accomplishments, and to advocate for priorities in trail management and protection in 2020 and beyond.
PNTA staff and other nonprofit trail leaders also met with USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, who unveiled the 10 Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge to nonprofit trail leaders and agency recreation staff from every region of the country.
“In 2019, organizations and individuals contributed more than 1.5 million hours on the maintenance and repair of more than 28,000 miles of trail, and we are extremely grateful for their continued support and hard work,” Christiansen told trail advocates during the meeting at Forest Service Headquarters. “However, we must find more ways to erase the backlog. We still have much more work to do, and this is our call to organizations and individuals to share with us innovative ideas and boots-on-the-ground help.”
The agency hopes to expand its employee, grassroots, nonprofit and corporate support to find innovative ideas to address the nearly $300 million maintenance backlog on US Forest Service managed trails across the nation.
On the Pacific Northwest Trail in particular, the effects of deferred maintenance come with a high price. With hundreds of miles of trail in temperate rainforest—home to fast-growing brush and massive old growth trees—many areas along the PNT need regular maintenance to stay open and safe for all to enjoy.
To get involved with the Trail Challenge and help give back to the PNT, become a member of the PNTA or join us for a volunteer trail work party this year. On your next adventure, be mindful of how you use the trail by using Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly outdoor ethics standards.