“Tomorrow, the Pacific Ocean!”
This phrase, written by conservationist and guidebook author Harvey Manning, and published in the 1970 classic 101 Hikes in the North Cascades, is credited as the catalyst that led to the creation of the Pacific Northwest Trail. In his book, Manning extended an invitation “to come enjoy–and then help save”, the natural wonders of the region. Manning also described his fantasy of a cross-Cascades hiking trail.
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 read Manning’s book, and began to envision such a trail that would ultimately extend from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean.
Over the next few years Strickland poured over maps, hiked segments, and recruited volunteers with local knowledge of the region’s trail system to help him cobble together this crown to coast path. By 1974, a preliminary route had been identified, and the idea for the Pacific Northwest Trail reached a national audience through a column in Backpacker Magazine #7, titled “Your support is needed for the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.”
Every Trail Needs Advocates to Support it
In 1977, Strickland founded the Pacific Northwest Trail Association to develop, preserve, and protect the Pacific Northwest Trail. That same year, five Oregonians became the trail’s first thru-hikers, proving the route, and inspiring many more to hike the trail in the coming years.
The first-hand account of two of those journeys made the cover of Backpacker Magazine #34, which was published in 1979. That same year, the simple two-page guide that these hikers used to navigate the route was published to a larger audience by Signpost Magazine.
As described in Strickland’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.
The feasibility study was completed in 1980, and though it found that the PNT met all the criteria for a National Scenic Trail, the estimated cost of implementing the trail was astronomical. Much of this cost was intended to acquire a wide right-of-way for the trail. Because of this, the study concluded that designating the existing route as a National Scenic Trail was neither feasible nor desirable.
Strickland 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 new PNT segments on Blanchard Hill, overlooking Samish Bay. That example typifies the bedrock Pacific Northwest Trail philosophy that volunteers are the key to development and maintenance.
The PNT also has an educational component. In 2000, after passage of the Secure Rural Schools Act, the PNTA began working with local school districts, and received Title II monies from the United States Forest Service. The Service Knowledge Youth (SKY) Program taught young people valuable skills through trail construction and maintenance. This program continues today as a part of the Association’s public outreach.
Also in 2000, the Pacific Northwest Trail received its first federal recognition in the form of Millennium Trail designation, presented by the White House Millennium Council, under the Clinton Administration.
In the following years, the Pacific Northwest Trail would receive three separate National Recreational Trail designations, which added the national park portions of the Pacific Northwest Trail to the National Trail System.
In 2008, Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Maria Cantwell introduced legislation to designate the full length of the Pacific Northwest Trail as a national scenic trail. Each of the counties and states rallied behind that effort. On March 30, 2009, President Obama signed the bill into law, and the Pacific Northwest Trail became the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.
In August 2015, the US Forest Service established the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Committee. The Committee is tasked with making recommendations on the administration and management of the PNNST, which will inform a comprehensive plan.
In 2017, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association celebrated four decades of leadership in conservation and outdoor recreation as well as the 40th Anniversary of the first end-to-end thru-hikes of the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Today, our work to fully protect the trail corridor of the PNT continues. We invite you to join our community and to come along with us on the journey.
“1974 – Strong support for the creation of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.”
– Backpacker Magazine #7.
The Pacific Northwest Trail was designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail by the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, after decades of work and advocacy by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.