PCTA joins with other trail groups to Hike the Hill

When we think of the Pacific Crest Trail, the first thing that comes to mind is the wonderful times we have out there, whether we’re walking for miles, camping on a rocky ridge above a pristine mountain lake or mounting a horse for a ride through beautiful desert terrain.

It’s not usually the case that your mind goes directly to the incredible amount of work it takes to keep those kinds of experiences available for generations to come. At PCTA, our volunteers, donors, members, partners and staff tackle this workload in a variety of ways throughout the year with the ultimate goal of maintaining the trail, protecting the landscapes it crosses as well as preserving the experiences it provides.

This week, PCTA volunteers and staff are in Washington, D.C. to participate in Hike the Hill, the annual trek to our nation’s capital in which we advocate for trail funding. Trail groups from across the country are here with the Partnership for the National Trails System and the American Hiking Society to talk to members of Congress about our system of National Scenic and Historic Trails, the importance of federal funding to support trails and the agencies that manage them, as well as a variety of other related issues.

PCTA staff and volunteers at a Tuesday morning training. Hike the Hill 2016.

PCTA staff and volunteers at a Tuesday morning training.

This event happens every February. In meetings with elected leaders and their staff members from California, Oregon and Washington, PCTA is presenting our annual federal funding request for the 2017 fiscal year. It includes operational funds for the U.S. Forest Service to manage the trail as well as Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to purchase a few private properties that the trail passes through or near and have been identified as vital for preserving the trail and the experience for users.

We also are meeting with our partners in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service to discuss pressing issues involving the trail. And we’ll be talking about a variety of issues and legislation that affect the PCT. The ultimate goal is to build awareness and support among people in government who can make a difference for this great public resource.

Students from Environmental Charter High School practice the speech that they'll be making to leaders at the U.S. Forest Service during Hike the Hill.

Students from Environmental Charter High School practice the speech that they’ll be making to leaders at the U.S. Forest Service during Hike the Hill.

Trails provide a healthy escape from the rigors of society, bringing people from all over the world to our country’s most special places. And they offer a boost to the small-town economies through which they pass. Trail recreation activities inject $81 billion annually into the nation’s economy, according to a 2012 report from the Outdoor Industry Association.

And nonprofit groups are vital to caring for them. At PCTA, our volunteers put in more than 96,000 hours last year maintaining and improving the PCT. Between 2006 and 2015, PCTA volunteers contributed 918,000 hours, a gift to the American public valued at $19.7 million. And PCTA also raised more than $10.9 million in that same time period, which is used to manage trail maintenance, protection, fundraising and communications programs, among other things.

“Part of our message is that PCTA is raising a lot of private dollars and we’re leading lots of volunteers to do work on the trail, but we need the Forest Service to have sufficient funding so it can do what needs to be done for the PCT,” said Mike Dawson, PCTA’s director of trail operations.

Liz Bergeron, Gary Werner, Joe Mead and U.s. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell at Hike the Hill.

Liz Bergeron, Gary Werner, Joe Mead and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell at Hike the Hill.

All of this collective effort makes for a powerful message to Congress, and that’s why we send a delegation to Washington D.C. every year. This year’s contingent includes 10 volunteers, six PCTA staff members and four students and a teacher from the Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles. You’ll hear more about these amazing students in a later report.

We gathered at the Washington Plaza Tuesday morning for a few hours of training before heading to meetings with Congressional representatives and their staffs. The training included a visit from Beth Boyst, PCT program manager for the U.S. Forest Service, who thanked everyone for their effort.

“The commitment to the trail and the land is very real,” she said. “A lot more people know about the PCT. You are in a place where you have the ability to change outcomes.”

After the training, the students and a handful of PCTA staff members joined other trail groups for a meeting with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who’s a champion of the national trails. He thanked the groups for their advocacy work with Congress and said the more we engage with elected leaders, the better off our trails will be in the long run.

“It’s about better appropriations to leverage the work that you do,” Tidwell said. “The money is not for the agency. It’s for the people who use the trails. It’s their public lands. We maintain these trails for the public.”

He also had this message for the group: “What you are doing is making a difference.”

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.