Advocacy trip supports the Pacific Crest Trail

Environmental Charter High School students Jazmin Gerardo, Shazabe Siddique, Obed Del Aguila Martinez and Jade Mendez on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Taking care of the Pacific Crest Trail is not just about clearing logs, cutting back brush or moving rocks. It’s also about building long-term support for our mission with elected leaders and land managers.

We’d all probably rather be outside in our hiking boots getting dirty. But it’s also necessary to put on our best duds and walk the halls of Congress telling PCT stories to people who can make a difference in the work we do for the trail. Trail funding, legislative support for recreation and how the country views and maintains its public lands does not happen in a vacuum. Your voices matter. Your support for the PCTA helps empower our elected representatives to make informed decisions.

We’ve just returned from such a trip. PCTA volunteers and staff traveled to Washington, D.C. in early February to meet with members of Congress and their staffs. We also met with our federal agency partners and our sister trail organizations and other nonprofit advocacy groups, such as the Back Country Horsemen of America and the Washington Trails Association. It’s an organized event that happens every February called “Hike the Hill” and it’s sponsored by the Partnership for the National Trails System and the American Hiking Society.

We advocate annually for robust funding to support our National Scenic and Historic Trails and the agencies that manage them. We also weigh in on bills Congress is considering that could influence trails, public lands and recreation. This advocacy work takes a lot of effort, but it makes a real difference.

This year, our team included nine PCTA staff members and six volunteers, including two teenagers, Belle Kooyman and Kirsten Raichart, the daughters of PCTA staff members Justin Kooyman and Teresa Raichart. The team also included four students and two teachers from the Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, California. The students and teachers joined us for a full day as we fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with elected representatives and their staffs.

Kirsten Raichart and PCTA Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Teresa Raichart meet with Congressman Ami Bera.

Our long-term partnership with the school is a way of bringing young people to the work we are doing. As part of their studies, these students join weekend trail maintenance projects on the PCT in Southern California. The trip to D.C. offers them a more holistic vision of what it takes to maintain and protect the trail and involves them in the long-term viability of trails and outdoor recreation in the U.S.

It’s important to have all these young people with us to tell their personal stories and explain their connections to the PCT. Their voices help the folks back east understand the power our public lands and trails have to shape lives through experiences. The students also met with leaders of the U.S Forest Service, toured the Capitol, visited museums and took a hike outside the city.

 

Kirsten Raichart, Belle Kooyman, Obed Del Aguila Martinez and Shazabe Siddique with PCTA Regional Representative Ian Nelson (center).

This annual trip is a big part of our effort to build strong relationships between the PCTA and members of Congress, as well as with our agency partners. In the long run, we are making a difference for the trail. This year we visited with the offices of more than 60 members of Congress from California, Oregon and Washington.

Rest assured, there is a lot of support for the PCT among the West Coast delegation, and the National Trails System gets a lot of support from members of Congress from across the country.

PCTA Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Teresa Raichart, Kirsten Raichart, PCTA Regional Representative Anitra Kass and PCTA Land Protection Director Megan Wargo meet with Rep. Raul Ruiz (center).

While we raise most of the money we need to care for the PCT through private donations from people like you, we rely on some financial support from the government. When we talk about the trails budget with members of Congress, we remind them of your commitment to the PCT.

In 2019, PCTA volunteers devoted 106,444 hours to the trail, an in-kind value of more than $2.7 million. You also donated an amazing $3.1 million last year. Our association’s contribution to the trail for 2019 was just over $5.8 million.

Our agency partners and members of Congress are impressed by your effort and dedication to taking care of the PCT. It allows people from across the country and the world to enjoy it. Many thanks for all you do.

A big thank you to our Hike the Hill volunteers: Chris Sanderson, Bill Meyer, Rick Thalhammer, Sandy Mann, Belle Kooyman and Kirsten Raichart. Many of them have been coming to D.C. with us for years. They pay their own expenses and are tireless in their determination to make a difference.

And a special thanks to our friends at the Environmental Charter High School, including students Jade Mendez, Jazmin Gerardo, Obed Del Aguila Martinez and Shazabe Siddique — and their teachers Gabriel Avenna and Connie Lau.

We could not do this important work without them — or all of you.

Jade Mendez and PCTA Regional Representative Anitra Kass.

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.