It’s a great time to be talking about the PCT in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — PCTA staff and volunteers spent most of the week on Capitol Hill talking to Congressional delegates from California, Oregon and Washington about public lands and the Pacific Crest Trail and how important it is for the federal government to support the work we do together to take care it.

Every February, we gather a delegation to meet with members of Congress and their staffs, our federal agency partners and folks from our sister trail groups and other nonprofit advocacy groups, such as the Back Country Horsemen of America.

PCTA volunteers Chris Sanderson of Portland, Oregon, and Bill Meyer of Spokane, Washington, enjoy a beautiful day on Capitol Hill.

The annual event is called “Hike the Hill” and it’s sponsored by the Partnership for the National Trails System and the American Hiking Society. It’s an opportunity to share information with members of Congress about need for robust funding for the National Trails System and the agencies that manage them. It’s also a chance to discuss issues that affect public lands, our work and proposed legislation that may help or hinder our efforts.

High school students learn the importance of advocating for the PCT and all national trails

This year eight PCTA staff and eight volunteers attended. Additionally, four students and two teachers from the Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles joined us. The school group toured the Capitol, met their congresswoman, spoke to leaders at the U.S. Forest Service and spent a day with us as we met with House and Senate offices. The trip is part of our ongoing program with the school to bring students to the PCT. They join us for trail projects in Southern California and then some participate in our advocacy efforts.

Students and teachers from Environmental Charter High School meet with “Auntie Maxine,” California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Hike the Hill brings together an impressive and energetic community of trail lovers, federal land managers and others to ensure that our trails are considered as Congress begins the process each spring of drafting the federal budget. This year, we were focusing on the budget for the 2020 Fiscal Year, which begins Oct. 1, 2019.

The PCTA is seeking funding for the U.S. Forest Service, which administers the PCT and provides our organization with the bulk of the federal funding we receive. About 30 percent of our operations are paid by the government. We also seek support for the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which oversee sections of the trail as well.

Congress helps those who help themselves through volunteerism

The collective work of nonprofit groups and volunteers who care for our 11 National Scenic and 19 National Historic trails is truly remarkable. In 2018, volunteers for organizations including the PCTA, North Country Trail Association, Pacific Northwest Trail Association and many others contributed 978,034 hours to trail maintenance and protection efforts nationwide. That incredible gift of time is valued at just over $24 million. And the groups raised another $14.5 million in private gifts that helped fund the work.

The PCTA contingent gathers in a conference room at the Washington Plaza Hotel to talk about our meetings on Capitol Hill.

PCTA volunteers contributed 118,524 hours in 2018 valued at 2.9 million. Private donations brought in another $2.9 million, for a total contribution of $5.6 million. That’s an incredible gift to the trail and the country.

These figures resonate with lawmakers. They matter. It’s important that we remind members of Congress and their staffs of the work volunteers are doing across the country to take care of our national trails. It’s why we have consistent support from the government for our operations.

An important victory in funding for national trails

This year was an especially remarkable time to be in Washington. On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate approved a sweeping public lands package, Senate Bill 47, that includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

We have fought long and hard alongside many other conservation and recreation groups over the last several years for the renewal of this important program. Created in 1965, it expired for the second time in September.

(L to R) PCTA volunteer Chris Sanderson, PCTA Associate Director of Advocacy and Government Relations Mark Larabee, Congresswoman Kim Schrier of Washington, and PCTA volunteer Bill Meyer.

The LWCF sets aside $900 million annually from the lease payments to the U.S. for offshore oil and gas exploration. That money is collected in a trust fund that we use for land purchases and other conservation programs in all 50 states. On the PCT, we use LWCF funding in our efforts to protect land along the trail still in private ownership. About 10 percent of the PCT still crosses private property, and we are working with willing sellers to close those gaps as opportunities arise. The LWCF is a crucial source of funding for that work. Without it, we would have a much more difficult time getting the remainder of the trail protected.

The Senate voted 92-8 to support the bill. We spoke a lot throughout the week about the bipartisan vote and how both Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the package that includes new wilderness areas and many other protections. Still, the overwhelming support for the bill in the Senate doesn’t tell the full story of how hard conservation and recreation groups fought to get the package approved. Less than two months ago, the package died on the Senate floor to great disappointment as the 115th Congress came to an end.

Let’s just say it was great to be in Washington when this bill passed the Senate. The trails community learned of the vote Tuesday night as we gathered for a celebration at the REI flagship store. The joy in the room was palpable as we toasted one another and heard inspiring speeches from our federal agency partners. Pretty magical.

PCTA Regional Representative Ian Nelson gets a warm but sleepy welcome in Oregon Congressman Greg Walden’s office.

Throughout the week during our meetings in Congress, we heard that the bill likely will go to the House of Representatives for an up or down vote, without changes, later this month. It’s a little early to fully celebrate this amazing accomplishment as there’s still work to do. If you have time, contact your member of Congress and let them know that you support the bill’s passage.

Your help and support makes it all possible

Lastly, thanks to all of you for supporting the PCTA’s efforts. Your gifts not only help fund trail maintenance, they help us advocate for the PCT with our elected representatives. It’s a valuable and important component of our collective effort to protect the trail for future generations.

(L to R) Environmental Charter High School Teacher Francisco McCurry, volunteer Barney Mann, California Congressman Harley Rouda, PCTA Board Member Ken Schwarz and ECHS student Diego Borjas.

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.