New Land Protection Advisory Council looks to preserve the future of the PCT

Many transformational journeys on the Pacific Crest Trail begin with a celebratory photo at the southern terminus.  So when the PCTA’s new Land Protection Advisory Council met for the first time in January in San Diego, it made sense for the group to mark the start of our tenure with a photo at the same monument, followed by a hike.

Like thru-hikers looking to complete the entire trail, the council likely will experience many highs and lows as well, however, our journey to completely protect the trail surely will be measured in decades rather than months.

As the council came together, I was taken by a feeling that this was one of those moments that would mark a turning point in the PCT’s history. The combined enthusiasm, dedication and expertise are exactly the ingredients the PCTA needs to expand our land protection efforts, accelerate the pace of land acquisition and ensure that opportunities to permanently protect the trail are not lost. Our actions could ensure that future generations have a fully protected PCT.

PCT Land Protection Advisory Council 2016

The Land Protection Advisory Council – back row from left to right: John Hoffnagle, Mike Dawson, Terry Marbach, David Beaver, Bill Dahnke. Middle row: Connie Marbach (not on council), Liz Bergeron, Paul Newhagen, Tom Reveley. Bottom row: Darrell Hallett, Megan Wargo. Not pictured: Denise Gilbert and John Pardee. Photo by John Crawford.

Over the past 15 years, the PCTA and our partners in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other nonprofit groups have protected more than 18,000 acres along the PCT, including many special places in the California deserts, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Mountains. These accomplishments have been crucial, but there is much more to be done. Roughly 1,500 parcels and 200,000 acres along the trail remain in private hands, and they either include the trail or are within its view and are important for preserving the world-class trail experience for which the PCT is known.  In many places the PCT crosses these private parcels on narrow easements, some only 10-feet wide, leaving the trail vulnerable to development, power lines, timber harvesting or mineral extraction.

The challenge for the PCTA’s expanded land protection program is not “if” but “how” we will be prepared to respond to opportunities and threats on private lands along the trail.  As an organization that has always excelled at using resources efficiently and effectively, we are thrilled to have our newly formed Land Protection Advisory Council. This highly qualified group of 9 volunteers and three staff includes experienced land conservation professionals, lawyers, retired agency personnel and successful business professionals and entrepreneurs. They all bring skills that will help us approach land protection along the PCT strategically and directly.

The duties of the Land Protection Advisory Council include:

  • Providing guidance on how the PCTA runs its land protection program to help continually improve the program.
  • Reviewing and consulting with PCTA staff about land protection projects and strategizing on negotiations and land acquisition plans.
  • Helping the PCTA build a Land Protection Fund so it’s nimble enough to react to acquisition opportunities as they arise.
  • Assisting the PCTA in raising awareness of land protection needs along the PCT.

The council will meet every other month to provide advice to the PCTA on land acquisition projects and guide the direction of this newly expanded program. It is likely to be decades before we see the entire PCT permanently protected, but aren’t long and challenging journeys usually worth it in the end?

Author: Megan Wargo

Megan Wargo is PCTA’s Director of Land Protection. She oversees a program dedicated to protecting the landscape and trail miles that are still held by private landowners. Megan brings more than a dozen years of experience leading teams and managing landscape-scale conservation projects.