Seeking money complete trails
Cross-country hiking trails that can’t be completed because their paths run through private land may receive a helpful push from a bill working its way through Congress.
Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard’s “Willing Sellers Trails Bill,” which has passed the U.S. Senate, would allow the federal government to buy private land and finish routes such as the Continental Divide Trail, which runs through the Holy Cross Wilderness and Camp Hale on its way from Canada to the Mexican border.
“For the success of trails and the benefit of people who enjoy the outdoors, this is a really significant bill,” says Gary Werner, executive director of the Partnership for the National Trail System. “These are several of the key national and scenic trails.”
The Madison, Wisc.-based organization is an alliance of 25 nonprofit groups that work with various federals agencies to sustain national scenic and historic trails, Werner says.
Allard’s bill could lead to the completion of nine trails around the country that are currently blocked by private land, including:
– North Country National Scenic Trail, from New York to North Dakota.
– Ice Age National Scenic Trail, in Wisconsin.
– Potomac Heritage Trail, which ends in Washington D.C.
– Iditarod Historic Trail, in Alaska.
– Lewis and Clark Trail, in Oregon.
“The Senate’s passage of the Willing Sellers Act is a huge victory for thousands of citizens who have devoted their time and effort toward developing a trails system throughout the entire country,” says Allard, a second-term Republican.
Previous attempts at expanding the federal government’s authority to buy private land for trails have failed, Allard says.
“Both House and Senate members have introduced various forms of this bill for nearly a decade,” Allard says. “My bill, introduced in March of this year, marks the first time the legislation has been passed by the Senate.”
Allard’s spokesman, John Wood, says the bill will restore “equity” to the nine trails.
“It’s just a common-sense bill,” Wood says. “When initially built, the trails were only allowed to use existing federal land. What this bill is doing is restoring equity to allow the nine trails to be completed.”
Most of the nation’s scenic and historic trails use land owned by agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. But only 120 miles of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail would cross privately owned land, Werner says.
Some of those problematic stretches of trail are in northern and southern Colorado.
“It’s critical that the federal agencies that administer and manage these trails have the authority to use public money to buy land from willing sellers when it becomes available,” Werner says. “There’s no way to have continuous rights-of-way for hikers to follow if the government doesn’t have the ability to buy land when people are selling it.”
Volunteers are continuing to work on the Continental Divide Trail, which runs though five states, 25 national forests, 13 wildernesses, three national parks and one national monument. Crews have finished approximately 70 percent of the trail, which was designated by Congress in 1978.
The volunteer work is organized by the Continental Divide Trail Alliance and the Colorado Trail Foundation.
The Continental Divide Trail is part of a trio of mountainous north-south trails that avid hikers have made it their goal to complete. The other two are the Pacific Crest Trail on the West Coast and the popular Appalachian Trail on the East Coast.
“Obviously, if you want to have a continuous route for someone to follow you’re going to have to have just that – a continuous right of way to protect the continuity of the trail corridor,” says Werner.
Werner calls Allard’s bill “wonderful” and praises the senator for not limiting his bill to trails that run through Colorado.
“To me, it’s generous on the part of Sen. Allard,” Werner says. “It’s a very far-sighted and public-spirited thing for him to do.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.