Hike the Hill 2024: Taking the Trail to Congress!

Left to right: PCTA Board Chair Kevin Bacon, PCTA Board Member Ashley Martinez, PCTA CEO Megan Wargo, PCTA Director of Advocacy Mark Larabee

Hike the Hill 2024: Taking our message to Congress 

The Pacific Crest Trail Association’s most public face comes in the form of the incredible efforts volunteers make to maintain the trail. Crew members from all walks of life and communities coming together to do back-breaking work in scenic landscapes epitomize public service. They inspire us all to help sustain the effort to provide one of the greatest and most scenic long-distance adventures in the world. 

While these volunteers are the heart of the association, the work that goes on behind the scenes to raise money, build lasting support for the trail and protect the vital, sensitive landscapes it crosses are no less important. 

We have just completed a week-long effort to meet with members of Congress and federal land managers through the annual Hike the Hill event sponsored by the Partnership for the National Trails System and the American Hiking Society. For the first time since the pandemic, we had three staff and two volunteer board members doing in-person meetings in Washington, D.C. with elected officials, key Congressional committee staffers and agency leaders. We also had six staff members conducting virtual meetings. Our goal this year was to meet with every member of Congress from the PCT states, and we got pretty close!  

Because of the pandemic, in 2021 we transformed our Hike the Hill effort from in-person meetings to an all-virtual format. We created new graphics and slide shows to help us make the case that the PCT, the National Trails System and public lands deserve robust and sustained public funding.  

Building and maintaining relationships with decision makers is all about ensuring long-term support for trails and public lands. Throughout the year, we are in contact with key Congressional offices and agency partners regarding proposed legislation, federal budgets, and issues that are affecting the trail and the larger landscapes that are essential to the trail experience. Then in February, we traditionally bring a group of PCTA staff members and volunteers to the nation’s capital for direct talks.  

Throughout the week, PCTA’s delegation met with with various federal officials. From left to right, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, PCTA Board Chair Kevin Bacon, PCTA CEO Megan Wargo and PCTA Trail Operations Director Justin Kooyman.

Seeing people in person cements our bonds. And the first thing we tell them is about the incredible efforts of PCTA volunteers. In 2023, PCTA volunteers gave more than 57,000 hours to the trail, valued at $1.8 million. Additionally, private donors gave $4.5 million to fund our operations. That’s a $6.3 million gift to the country. Over 10 years, our contribution has been $48.65 million. Bravo and thanks to all of you!  

For that contribution, the PCT receives about $1 million annually from the federal government, providing for PCTA’s base operations and additional funding for partnership project work to maintain and manage the trail. It is, after all, a National Scenic Trail, and we have a formal agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to perform maintenance, management, and other work, like issuing the federal interagency long-distance permit.  

As we told folks in D.C. this year, PCTA’s base funding of $667,000 has not increased in more than 10 years. Based on inflation rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we would need a grant of just over $900,000 today to match the purchasing power of the grant we received in 2013, a 33.2% increase. We are continually having to do more with less as the cost of training, equipping, and supplying volunteers rises. 

Telling stories about the PCT and public lands to people who can make a difference for the trail is important, even if the results of that work are not always obvious or evident. And despite news reports about Congressional infighting and disfunction, elected representatives in Congress continue to support the PCTA’s work because they value your outsized contribution. 

We are at a time in history when the PCT and public lands are facing a perfect storm of sorts. Powerful forces are working against our association’s efforts to maintain and protect this inspirational outdoor experience. Large wildland fires and immense winter rains and snowstorms spurred by climate change continue to pose a significant challenge to the public’s enjoyment of the PCT and other public lands across the country.  


Over the last six years, 1,194 miles of the PCT in California, Oregon and Washington were closed because of fires. Those include 244 trail miles that were burned and may require years to repair. Fires create serious maintenance projects for our trail and, nationally, are taking a heavy financial toll. The last three years were the most expensive in our nation’s history. The costs to taxpayers are unsustainable: 2023 was the third costliest wildfire season on record at more than $3.16 billion, following the two most expensive seasons: 2022 at $3.76 billion and 2021 at $4.49 billion.  

Atmospheric rivers bring heavy snowpacks that linger so long they shorten our time to maintain trail in the high country. And they often saturate the earth, especially in burn areas, causing landslides that wipe out whole sections of trail that in some cases cannot be rebuilt for years. 

This, too, is unsustainable. Imagine what we could have accomplished if we had invested all that money in proper management and maintenance of our public lands before these blazes were able to reshape them. Changing the pattern is going to take radical effort.  

Increased agency staffing is one of our highest priorities for trails and public lands. Most of the federal land agencies are understaffed and struggling to keep up with maintenance, project planning and management, and landscape and species protection. There are several reasons for this. Cumbersome, centralized hiring at land agencies is contributing to staff shortages. Local land managers have no control over hiring, so they cannot hire known applicants who may be the best person for the job. And the high cost of housing makes many of these lower-paying trail and recreation jobs unattractive. We asked Congress to support an audit of agency hiring practices and systems to make them more effective and efficient. In our view, we must rebuild the agencies and their capacity to manage public lands and trails. Nonprofits like the PCTA cannot do our jobs properly or in a timely way without the expertise the agencies provide. It’s a true partnership. 

We brought these messages and more to Congress this month. The PCTA and other trail groups are always 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.  

I want to thank you again for your immense support of the PCTA. You are fueling our efforts to inform our elected representatives so they can make good decisions for the PCT and public lands. Your support gives us the capacity to continually make the case that our trails and public lands are valuable and worth protecting. 

Want to get involved? Contact your elected representatives in Congress and tell them how much you care about your trails and outdoor spaces. Be sure to thank them for their support. To learn more about PCTA’s Advocacy program and Hike the Hill, contact Mark Larabee.


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.