The PCT has a rich history that stretches back nearly a century. Beginning in the early 1930s, Clinton C. Clarke pushed forward the idea for the trail while battling a government system that couldn’t fathom the idea. The story of the PCT continues to this day.
- 1926 – first known record of a proposal for a trail through California, Oregon and Washington
- 1932 – Clinton Clarke, the “father of the PCT,” begins promoting the trail
- 1930’s – exploration begins
- 1935 – first meeting of the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference
- 1935 – 1938 – YMCA organizes relays to scout the trail’s route
- 1939 – PCT appears on a federal government map for the first time
- 1940’s – work halted due to WWII
- 1950’s – advocacy work continues
- 1968 – designated as National Scenic Trail
- 1971 – Warren Rogers, Clinton Clarke’s protégée, founds the Pacific Crest Trail Club
- 1973 – first Wilderness Press PCT guidebook is released
- 1977 – Pacific Crest Trail Conference incorporated
- 1987 – Pacific Crest Trail Club merges with Pacific Crest Trail Conference
- 1988 – monuments placed at the southern and northern terminuses
- 1992 – Pacific Crest Trail Conference changes its name to Pacific Crest Trail Association
- 1993 – Golden Spike “completion” ceremony, PCTA hires first paid staff
- 1997 – PCTA begins annual advocacy trips to Washington, D.C.
- 2000 – U.S. Forest Service hires full-time PCT Program Manager
- 2001 – U.S. Forest Service signs agreement with National Park Service for PCT land acquisition work
- 2006 – PCTA adopts Strategic Plan
- 2010 – PCTA exceeds 100,000 volunteers hours with the help of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The birth of the trail
It may be impossible to pinpoint the first person to propose the Pacific Crest Trail but published accounts tend to acknowledge the following people: Catherine Montgomery at the State Normal School in Bellingham, Wash.; a former Supervisor of Recreation for the U.S. Forest Service, Fred W. Cleator; and Clinton C. Clarke of Pasadena, Calif. According to author and mountaineer Joseph T. Hazard, Catherine Montgomery suggested the idea of a border-to-border trail to him in 1926. Fred. W. Cleator, who oversaw the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service, outlined Oregon’s Skyline Trail (a seminal link of the PCT) in 1920 and extended that trail to Oregon’s north and south borders. Cleator also initiated plans for a similar trail in Washington. Clinton C. Clarke, founder of the Pasadena Playhouse and chairman of the Mountain League of Los Angeles, however, is often called the “father” of the PCT because he organized the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference in 1932 to promote the concept of a border-to-border trail.
Under Clarke’s inspiration, the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference (a federation of hiking clubs and youth groups) devoted itself to developing an interconnected system of existing trails and new trails that would extend all the way from Canada to Mexico on or close to the crest of the mountainous western states. This was not a new idea, but unifying the many hiking groups for this cause was. Members of the conference included the Boy Scouts, YMCA, Sierra Club, Los Angeles County Department of Recreation, California Alpine Club, Mazamas of Portland, Mountaineers of Seattle, Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, and the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Associations. Clark served as president of the conference for 25 years. Renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams was a member of the executive committee. At the time, six segments of the system were already complete (the Cascade Crest Trail in Washington; Oregon Skyline Trail in Oregon; Lava Crest Trail in northern California; Tahoe-Yosemite Trail in California; John Muir Trail in California; and the Desert Crest Trail in southern California) and Clarke recruited Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members to help plan and build remaining trail links, bridges, and structures.
Clarke also organized the YMCA PCT Relays, held during the summers of 1935 through 1938. During these relays, 40 teams of young hikers (ages 14-18) under the direction of a young YMCA outdoorsman named Warren Rogers (Rogers had driven to Pasadena to meet Clarke after reading a newspaper article about his PCT proposal) scouted a route for the trail. The hikers carried a log book north from Campo on the Mexican border, recording their adventures and route. On August 5, 1938, the final relay team reached milepost 78 on the Canadian border. The PCT Relays demonstrated that hikers could traverse the mountainous spine of three states using the available combination of trails, roads, and open country. Today, portions of the PCT follow the exact route walked by the YMCA relays. Rogers became the Conference executive secretary and began a life-long mission to organize support for a border-to-border trail along the Pacific Crest. He is credited with keeping the dream of the PCT alive until the 1960s when hiking and trails began to receive more national attention and garner enthusiasm.
A national treasure is created
On February 8, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson called for development and protection of a balanced system of trails to help protect and enhance the total quality of the outdoor environment, as well as to provide much needed opportunities for healthful outdoor recreation. Soon after, the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall requested the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation to take the lead in a nationwide trail study. A four-member steering committee, representing four federal agencies, was appointed to conduct the study. The results were documented in a volume entitled “Trails for America” and were published in December 1966. Trails for America formed the basis for the original language of what was to become the National Trails System Act, passed by Congress on October 2, 1968.
The Act established policies and procedures for a nationwide system of trails consisting of national recreation, scenic, historic, and connecting or side trails. The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were designated as the nation’s first national scenic trails.
A Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail Advisory Council was appointed and held its first meeting in 1970. Rogers served as a member along with the co-founder of the American Hiking Society, Louise Marshall; a California trail equestrian, Charles Vogel; and Oregon Obsidian, Larry Cash. Other members represented cattle ranchers, timber and mineral interests, youth organizations, Native Americans, and each of the trail states.
At its second annual meeting in May 1971, the Council recommended approval of the Pacific Crest Trail “Guide for Location, Design, and Management.” This guide became the management plan for the trail and has been used by the USDA Forest Service ever since.On January 30, 1973, after consultation with the states, Advisory Council members and participating agencies, the Forest Service published in the Federal Register the selected route of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
The current Pacific Crest Trail Association was first chartered as the Pacific Crest Trail Conference in 1977 under the leadership of Rogers and M. Merritt Podley. It is the natural outgrowth of the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference and the Pacific Crest Trail Club (an individual membership group that Rogers founded for hikers and equestrians.)
Rogers ran the Conference and Club from his home in Santa Ana until his health failed him. He relinquished leadership to Vogel, Cash, and Marshall in the early 1980′s and the Club was merged into the Conference.
Dedicated volunteers organize
The name was changed to the Pacific Crest Trail Association in 1992 to reflect the focus and volunteer structure of the new group as an individual membership organization, rather than a federation of outdoor clubs. The board of directors developed new bylaws for volunteer governance of the organization and took over the responsibilities of serving the membership.
In 1993, the PCTA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Forest Service, Park Service and the BLM. This agreement recognizes the PCTA as the federal government’s major partner in the management and operation of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. In June of the same year, the Pacific Crest Trail Association joined the U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies in celebrating the completion of the trail with a “Golden Spike” ceremony near Soledad Canyon in the Angeles National Forest. While the trail was declared complete, approximately 200 miles remain on private land and thus at risk of urban encroachment and impacts on resources. In some areas, the PCT runs through private land via right-of-way easements as narrow as just eight feet. Other portions of the PCT exist without easements, and work continues to secure the trail in optimal locations.
With assistance from the Forest Service, the Association hired its first full-time, paid executive director Bob Ballou (a former Boy Scout executive) and a membership services director Joe Sobinovsky (a 1995 thru-hiker) in 1996. At the time the Association had just 800 members and then-president Alan Young helped the PCTA to develop its first long-range plan that included growth to 5,000 members in just five years. The focus of the Association at that time was almost entirely on recruiting and training volunteers for trail maintenance. Then, in 1997 the Association became aware that segments of the trail on both private and public land in Agua Dulce, Calif., were on the auction block and that the conditions and continuity of the trail was in danger. With that the PCTA added “protection” of the trail to its mission. Today, the PCTA is “the voice” of the PCT, its steward, and its guardian, crucial to ensuring that the trail experience and the opportunities for outdoor recreation it affords remain in keeping with the original vision of its founders.
History continues to be made with each hiker and equestrian who travels the trail, each member who joins the PCTA, each PCTA president, board of directors member, staff member, and volunteer who dedicates time and talent to help ensure that its border-to-border route is available for generations to come. It would be impossible to list here all of the people who have shaped the world-renowned PCT and have helped to keep the PCTA alive and well in order to continue its work to protect, preserve, and promote the trail. If your life has been touched by the PCT, you are a part of its history and significance. Special recognition however should be paid to the PCTA’s past presidents for their invaluable leadership.
The following articles appeared in the Pacific Crest Trail Communicator magazine.
- Tween Years; Winter 2012
- Boots and Saddles; Fall 2012
- The Search for the PCT Relay Boys; September 2011
- On the Trail with pioneer thru-hiker Teddi Boston; June 2011
- No, it’s Montgomery; March 2011
- Discovering dad: A dusty trail leads to Clinton Clarke’s handmade journal; December 2010
- The Making of the first Pacific Crest Trail Guidebook; February 2010
- The 1959 PCT Thru-ride of Don and June Mulford; December 2009
- Ryback Returns; September 2009
- Development of the National Trails System Act; August 2008
|National Trails System Act||This 1968 Act of Congress established our nation’s network of National Scenic, Historic, and Recreation trails. It has been amended several times since 1968 with the addition of more National Trails.|
|PCNST Federal Register Notice||The PCT’s selected route location was published in the Federal Register of January 30, 1973 (Vol. 38, #19, Part II).|
|PCNST Comprehensive Plan||The 1982 PCT Comprehensive Plan established guidelines for administering the trail. A 1978 Amendment to the National Trails System Act required a comprehensive plan to be submitted to Congress defining the development, management, and use of the trail. The plan was developed in consultation with the PCT Advisory Council, the Governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, the BLM and the National Park Service.|