The PCTA goes to Washington on behalf of trails

Six PCTA volunteers and seven staff members spent last week in Washington D.C. visiting with members of Congress and their staff, federal agency partners and other trail groups to advocate for continued funding for trails, land protection and other important issues that affect our national trails.

We also were joined by four students and their teacher from the Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles, who helped us spread the word of the importance of the PCT. Their stories of studying the environment, volunteering on the PCT and learning life skills while they discover themselves continue to inspire everyone, from seasoned trail advocates to members of Congress, who lit up when they spoke.

Speaking with a collective voice

The annual pilgrimage to Washington, called “Hike the Hill,” is organized by the Partnership for the National Trails System and the American Hiking Society. It’s a way for the PCTA and other trail, equestrian, hiking and conservation groups to speak to Congress with a collective voice about the importance of trails and the continued need to conserve the important landscapes through which they pass.

PCTA Board member Ken Schwarz, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, PCTA Regional Representative Justin Kooyman and PCTA volunteer Kevin Black.

PCTA Board member Ken Schwarz, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, PCTA Regional Representative Justin Kooyman and PCTA volunteer Kevin Black.

It’s also a chance to remind our elected leaders what groups such as the PCTA bring to the table. In 2016, PCTA volunteers gave 104,269 hours to maintaining the trail, promoting our work and helping to raise awareness — an in-kind value of $2.45 million. The PCTA also raised $2.65 million in private donations in 2016, which were put toward our cause. There are 11 National Scenic Trails and 19 National Historic Trails in the National Trails System. Combined, our nonprofit associations contributed more than a million volunteer hours in 2016 worth more than $24 million, and we raised more than $13 million in private gifts.

The numbers are proof that these trails — large-scale collaborative stewardship projects — help leverage limited federal dollars and enhance community service ideals, engage youth, and foster pride in accomplishment for all involved, from the hiker to the die-hard volunteer to the chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Reminding Congress of the powerful economic impact of trails

All this time, effort and money is an incredible gift to the country and the world, a fact we made clear during our Congressional visits. We also spoke a lot about the fact that our work to maintain and protect the PCT and trails leading to it provides an important access point for the American people to enjoy their public land. And we reminded folks back in Washington that trails are a big contributor to the recreation economy in the U.S., providing jobs, helping sustain small town communities along these long routes, and helping our nation’s outdoor retailers and gear companies to thrive and grow. The Outdoor Industry Alliance says that outdoor recreation generates $646 billion annually.

PCTA staff and volunteers in Washington D.C. to advocate for the trail with members of Congress.

PCTA staff and volunteers in Washington D.C. to advocate for the trail with members of Congress.

As teams of PCTA volunteers and staff fanned out across Congressional offices last week, we met with 64 elected leaders and/or their staffs representing California, Oregon and Washington. Along with other trail groups, we met with House and Senate Appropriations staffers and held many meetings with our partners in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other key nonprofit conservation groups.

Amid widespread uncertainty, broad bipartisan support for trails

It is no surprise that there is uncertainty in Washington about recreation budgets and the direction the country will take regarding land protection and stewardship of existing public land. Many people are concerned and rightfully so. Much is up in the air and most people we spoke with did not have a clear picture of what the coming year will hold.

Despite this, there is much support for what we are trying to accomplish from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. There is broad bipartisan support for trails in general and for our collective effort to complete the National Scenic and Historic Trails through smart and effective land protection. Our scenic trails help protect the best of our country’s iconic landscapes, while the historic trails help us preserve and bring to life the stories of our heritage, ethnic communities and cultures.

Mark Larabee (left) and Barney Scout Mann (Right), authors of The Pacific Crest Trail, met with Rep.Don Beyer of Virgina, a big fan of the PCT.

Mark Larabee (left) and Barney Scout Mann (Right), authors of The Pacific Crest Trail, met with Rep.Don Beyer of Virgina, a big fan of the PCT.

While there is much debate over public lands policy, we found that there is just as much understanding and focus in Congress on the need to continue providing iconic trail experiences for the benefit of all people. I, for one, came away heartened by the genuine support our elected leaders and their staffs have for the PCT and other trails.

The PCTA remains a vigilant advocate

That’s not to say we should not be diligent. We cannot predict the future. So the PCTA will tirelessly continue to defend our long-term goals for the PCT and our National Trails System. We will remain at the ready when new policies or proposals come along that may threaten our collective vision for the trail. We’ll study these new ideas and decide how and best to address them. We will continue to put ourselves at the table so your voices are heard.

This is what we do. This is the reason you’re a member of PCTA. All of us, working together, are giving voice to the trail itself.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. He is editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and manages the association's advocacy efforts. He is 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.