The Pacific Crest Trail is not completely protected. As it winds from Mexico to Canada, the trail takes people into some of the most wild and scenic places in the world. While you’re out, back of beyond, it’s hard to imagine that your experience might not exist in the future.
A new housing development, road project or high-tension wire may be inching closer to the trail. The truth is, these kinds of pressures are constant threats to the peace and serenity our society seeks and deserves.
More than 30 years after the 1968 Congressional designation of the PCT as one of the first National Scenic Trails, our sense of urgency for protecting the trial is increasing.
It’s naive to think that the PCT could go for 2,650 miles while being totally removed from development. These objects of our creation are often necessary and beneficial. Still, we work to limit or mitigate development’s ever-increasing affect on the trail and its surrounding wilderness. In short, we aim to improve and preserve today’s trail experience for future generations.
Our small staff is stretched thin. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to contain every problem that pushes in on the trail. We devote much of our time and effort tracking and influencing proposals that could forever change the trail experience. We seek volunteers with a variety of professional land management and protection experience to assist us in this work.
We are in a good position to tackle these issues with your help. PCTA is the federally recognized organization for management and protection of the trail experience. Our strong partnerships with federal land managers ensure that our efforts to protect the trail on both public and private property will have the support and guidance of our agency partners.
Land protection on private land
A 2008 survey by the PCTA and the U.S. Forest Service found that approximately 200 miles of the trail, mostly in California, are on private property. In contrast to public land, private lands, sometimes within feet of the trail, can be more easily used in ways that would severely impact the trail experience. The survey identified about 1,500 properties – just over 200,000 acres – that need protection.
Privately owned land
|Number of acres:||179,522||14,201||9,821||203,544|
|Number of parcels:||1,393||99||62||1,554|
There are easements in place through these private parcels. Unfortunately, many easements are less than 30 feet wide and simply provide access, as opposed to protection, for the trail and its surroundings.
New construction and development can happen at any time on private lands along the PCT. The wildness of the trail experience is compromised every time a new road, industrial site or vacation home is built nearby. Often, there is no place to move the trail, and these developments can push the trail onto property edges and along large fence lines. On long, otherwise protected sections of the PCT, frequent and scattered developed parcels can disrupt the serene trail experience.
Our land inventory enables us to identify and prioritize properties that are at risk. It guides us as we create plans to acquire threatened parcels from willing sellers. Many tracts identified in the inventory are within existing National Forest boundaries. After an Optimal Location Review process we can be sure that we’re protecting the best location possible for the trail. Purchasing these parcels over time will create a cohesive and continuous trail experience. Furthermore, filing these gaps reduces the cost and improves management of the trail by eliminating miles of public/private boundaries.
In many places, land purchases establish important publicly owned wildlife corridors. These link large blocks of existing federal land and allow for healthier wildlife populations.
These purchases are often complex and take time and creativity. For example, the Keene Creek purchase near Ashland, Ore., took two years to complete. That effort permanently protected a mile of the PCT on a 146.5-acre parcel.
Finding funds for land protection
To purchase private parcels, we leverage your donations, partner with land trusts, foundations and other non-profits and seek federal funds. Together, countless individuals are protecting these parcels.
PCTA has been advocating for increased federal funding for land protection since 1999. We continually urge Congress to provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Yearly, $900 million from energy company royalties on offshore oil and gas drilling are put into the LWCF. This money is intended to create and support parks and waterways. Unfortunately, Congress typically designates only a small portion of this money to the intended purpose and instead diverts LWCF money to other spending.
LWCF dollars are crucial to completing the PCT. While there have been many successes in recent years, LWCF appropriations have not been adequate to keep the PCT land acquisition program on track. Opportunities to purchase some of the properties along the PCT constantly come and go. For this reason, we’re planning to increase our private donation fundraising for land protection.
It is not the PCTA’s desire or intention to own land. We aim to transfer lands to public ownership so that the trail can be cohesive and permanently protected.
Protecting public lands
Much of our work protecting the trail happens on public land. Getting the land surrounding the PCT into the public lands system is only the first step in protecting the trail experience.
In hundreds of meetings every year, we work with our government partners to inform trail management decisions that affect the trail. These relationships have been built through hard work, time and commitment.
As on private land, developers are working to build or extract resources on public land near the trail. We meet with key decision makers, submit comment letters, work on master plans and make sure that the voice of the trail is being heard.
Part of protecting the trail on public land is ensuring that our agency partners have adequate funding. To achieve their goals, we advocate on their behalf at the congressional level.
A sampling of projects
Renewable energy projects are creating large industrial sites along the PCT. Wind farms, solar arrays, gas pipelines and electrical transmission lines are already being built. Even more are planned. The number and the scale of these projects may have a huge impact on the trail experience.
Logging is less of a threat than it used to be. Still, timber harvests on private property, where the trail is but an easement, mean that it’s possible the trail will be clear-cut. We work with planners and land owners to mitigate the damage and protect the trail. Thinning of forests is often necessary. If possible, we work to ensure that these projects benefit the trail as opposed to damage it.
Anza Borrego, California
PCTA and the Anza-Borrego Foundation came together in February 2012 to protect 40 acres with a water source in the Southern California desert. This parcel was privately owned and could have been developed. Now it is permanently protected.
Agua Dulce, California
The U.S. Forest Service has been active in acquiring tracts for a trail corridor through the small community of Agua Dulce located north of Los Angeles. This corridor would relocate the PCT off of a four-mile road walk, which has grown increasingly hazardous because of substantial growth in the area.
Several key parcels for the corridor already have been purchased with LWCF funds. The community of Agua Dulce has endorsed the trail corridor and has championed continued support for the project. Several more critical parcels remain to be purchased here to secure a fully protected trail corridor. This area represents one of the few wildlife corridor links in the Santa Clara River system and links two separated sections of the Angeles National Forest.
Tejon Ranch, California
This large Southern California tract will eventually be home to many miles of new trail through an agreement between the Forest Service, PCTA, the landowners and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, a new local land trust. A new alignment for the PCT in this area, while agreed to, is still several years off. When finished, the relocation will permanently protect the trail experience and move it off of roads and onto wild lands.
Sequoia National Forest, California
In an effort support motorized use on public land, many land managers are considering motorized travel management plans that could potentially conflict with the trail experience. We support the principal of multiple use, however, we advocate that those uses do not conflict with the PCT experience. For example, in the Sequoia National Forest, a draft travel-management plan proposes nine motorized trail crossings of the PCT in addition to several dirt roads – all in a 9-mile stretch. To us, this is unacceptable.
Plum Creek, Washington
In the North Cascades, the U.S. Forest Service has purchased 18 parcels in what’s known as the Plum Creek checkerboard. Historically, this area was heavily logged, evident by the checkerboard pattern seen on maps and from the air. Three new parcels were picked up in 2012 with LWCF dollars. These former railroad properties are now public and will allow us, over time, to restore a better trail experience to the area.
Interested in learning more about our activities? We regularly publish trail protection updates in our member magazine, the PCT Communicator. Join us in protecting the trail.