Taking PCT advocacy virtual

Building long-term support for the Pacific Crest Trail is partially about building relationships with elected representatives and land managers. We do this throughout the year during our day-to-day interactions. As the new year rolls around, we traditionally bring a group of Pacific Crest Trail Association staff members and volunteers to Washington, D.C., to talk directly to agency partners and members of Congress and their staffs. Seeing people in person cements those bonds.

Years of personal connections made it much easier to hold our meetings this year online. No surprise—because of the pandemic, in late March we took our annual “Hike the Hill” event virtual. This event is sponsored by the Partnership for the National Trails System and the American Hiking Society.

Pacific Crest Trail Association staffers held dozens of online video chats with members of Congress and their staffs, agency partners, congressional committee staffers and other nonprofit partners to talk about trails funding, public land protection, pending legislation and threats to the outdoor experiences we all value so deeply.

Telling stories about the PCT and public lands to people who can make a difference for the trail is important work. Results of that work are not always obvious or evident. But we find help when we need it, and elected representatives in Congress continue to support the association’s work because they value your outsized contribution.

Consider: As the pandemic raged in 2020, PCTA volunteers safely gave 29,469 hours to the trail, valued at $801,557. Thanks for that! What an amazing feat given the difficulty of putting trail maintenance events together during the pandemic. (By comparison, volunteers donated 106,000 hours to the PCT in 2019.)

Additionally, private donors gave $2.7 million to the trail in 2020. Total PCTA contributions for the year (hours and donations) were $3.5 million and are included in our 10-year contribution of $42.1 million. The PCTA receives about $1 million annually from the federal government.

The pandemic laid bare the popularity of our public lands and trails. We saw huge increases in visitors in 2020 and some trailheads and are in need of work. A large maintenance backlog on public lands was partially handled with the passage last summer of the Great American Outdoors Act. Funding from that law will be put to work on the PCT, but more needs to be done. The intense 2020 wildfire season, during which 90 miles of the PCT were damaged to varying degrees, intensified the need for more upkeep and rehabilitation.

We brought these messages to Congress. The PCTA and other trail groups are advocating for increased federal funding for national trails that would eliminate regular annual shortfalls, help erase maintenance backlogs and allow nonprofit partners like us to do much more. We also are seeking more money for administration and oversight of trails and public lands, including renewed funding for agency field personnel, both in recreation and trail management positions.

Many U.S. Forest Service and other agency jobs were lost in recent years because of past practice of “fire borrowing”—raiding the annual budget to pay for the costs of fighting wildfires. Congress fixed that budget problem, but the rehires did not follow. In our view, we must rebuild the agencies and their capacity to manage public lands and trails. The nonprofits cannot do our work properly or in a timely way without the expertise the agencies provide. It’s a true partnership.

When we speak with members of Congress, we speak for you—and your support of the association helps empower our elected representatives to make informed decisions. There is a lot of support for the PCT and our National Trails System in Congress.

We will continue making the case that our trails and public lands deserve more support. You can get involved personally by contacting your representatives and telling them how much you care about your trails and outdoor spaces. Be sure to thank them for their support. Your voice matters.

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.