Advocacy and Policy

The Pacific Crest Trail traverses some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. But as amazing as it is, the PCT’s very existence is under constant threat from development, resource extraction, wildfires, and extreme weather events spurred by climate change.

Without love and hard work, the trail would wither away with each passing season. Your persistence and dedication keep the trail going so the next generation can enjoy it as we have.

The Pacific Crest Trail near Carson Pass, California. Photo by Joe Franklin.

Our work is multi-faceted. Every year, the Pacific Crest Trail Association organizes thousands of volunteers to perform tens of thousands of hours of manual labor to keep the trail open and safe. We raise millions of dollars in private donations to support our growing organization’s ability to meet arising challenges.

We also ensure that the trail is cared for and protected by advocating on its behalf with local, state, and federal agencies and lawmakers. Your support and involvement give voice to what we all know to be true: the trail needs constant care, attention, and dedication.

By building ongoing relationships with elected leaders and land managers, and through partnerships with many other private landowners, nonprofit groups and local communities, we work to fully protect the trail, the landscapes through which it passes and the experiences it provides.

Advocacy is largely about relationships. Often the process is slow, and the work can take years. Our steady and capable presence is remembered and recognized by land managers and decision makers nationwide.

Our Policy Priorities

Our advocacy work is complex and dynamic, with many priorities. We list the most important ones here—and all receive our equal attention and diligence.

Keeping the PCT open and protecting the trail experience for future generations

PCTA Volunteers at work maintaining the trail in Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. Photo by Bri Leahy.

  • We seek annual funding for the trail during regular meetings with members of Congress and work to influence the outcome of state and federal legislation that would affect public lands, the PCT and the trail experience.
  • Through our six regional representatives, we build lasting relationships with every forest, national park, BLM unit and state park along the PCT to ensure an open dialogue and ongoing partnership in maintaining the trail. We respond to countless proposals that may have long-term effects on the PCT experience.

Ensuring equitable access to the PCT and surrounding public lands

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

  • We believe that everyone should have access to the Pacific Crest Trail and feel welcomed in our trail community. We acknowledge systemic racism and other social injustices and their impact on the PCT community. And we welcome diversity and aim to be an accessible and inclusive community that honors and respects the various ways people connect with the PCT and mentors the next generation of trail stewards.
  • The PCTA is committed to making our organization more diverse and our culture more inclusive. Through our advocacy program, we are committed to broadening our partnerships and advocating for legislation that erases barriers and promotes equitable access to the PCT and all public lands.

Protecting and preserving land to complete the trail

Kids hiking in Northern California’s Trinity Divide, where 17 miles of the PCT were permanently protected. Photo by Carol Underhill.

  • Although the PCT was designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail in 1968, it is still incomplete. About 10 percent of the trail still crosses private property, often on narrow easements with little in place to protect the trail experience. Many parcels face the threat of development or resource extraction, such as timber cutting or mining. In other places, the trail follows roads that are unsafe for pedestrians and horseback riders.
  • The PCTA’s Land Protection Program works with willing sellers to conserve land along the entire 2,650 miles of the trail to protect the trail experience, enhance recreational access to our public lands, protect habitat for sensitive species, and secure crucial watersheds, which supports more climate resilient forests. While federal agencies take the lead role in acquiring lands to permanently protect the PCT, they also rely heavily on the valued assistance of private, nonprofit partners such as the PCTA.

Protecting the large landscapes and fragile environments that surround the PCT

Hikers on the summit of Mount Pinchot in the Sierra Nevada. Photo by Tim Macauley.

  • As more people seek the PCT experience every year, the trail and its surrounding lands can sometimes show signs of overuse. Through an ongoing campaign, we educate trail users on Leave No Trace principals, including sustainable camping and personal hygiene practices that minimize the human footprint on the trail and the special places it brings visitors.
  • In partnership with government land managers, we administer the PCT Long Distance Permit to more evenly distribute trail use throughout the busy thru-hiking season. Our Visitor Use Management helps drive decision making that leads to better stewardship of PCT landscapes. Our volunteers and regional trail experts work with land managers to rehabilitate campsites and relocate or rebuild sections of trail that need repair.
  • We work with the USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management on both long-range management and planning as well as on project-level efforts such as vegetation management, energy siting, timber extraction and right-of-way work to ensure healthy, climate-resilient ecosystems near the PCT.

Educating the PCT community about the effects of climate change on the trail and surrounding lands

A 120-degree day on the PCT in Southern California. Photo by Adam Arico.

  • The ongoing climate crisis is significantly affecting on the trail and the large landscapes through which it passes. Wildfires are an annual event and hundreds of miles of the PCT are closed every year. Changing weather patterns are reshaping environments as ongoing drought conditions cause glaciers to shrink and reduce snowpack and stream flows. The past decade was the hottest ever recorded, driven by an acceleration of global warming over the last five years, according to data released in 2020 by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Climate change poses an immediate and existential threat to the PCT experience. When the health of the trail and its condition are degraded, so is the trail experience. Protecting the trail experience means doing our best to protect the large landscapes and the diversity of plants and wildlife within them.
  • The PCTA cannot solve the climate crisis, but some solutions are already deeply embedded within our work. They include our ongoing efforts to permanently protect the entire trail through private property purchases, which often ends the threat of development. We continue to work to protect wilderness from mechanization and are working to establish PCT management areas in updated agency plans. Through our government advocacy and partnerships with other trail groups, we push for more robust funding for public lands and iconic trails like the PCT.

We approach our advocacy work from many angles

PCTA staff, volunteers and students at Hike the Hill in 2019.

  • Hike the Hill: In February, the PCTA joins with other trail organizations from across the nation to visit with members of Congress and agency staff. Over a week, PCTA staff, board members and volunteers meet with dozens of California, Oregon, Washington lawmakers to discuss our funding and legislative priorities and to urge them to continue the federal government’s robust support for the PCT and the entire National Trails System.
  • Ongoing Contact: Throughout the year, we meet with key members of Congress, committee staff and agency partners to reiterate our concerns and to work on pending legislation. The PCTA has contributed specific language to many bills that have become law and our ongoing efforts have helped Congress set spending and conservation priorities.
  • Office Visits: When we’re working on specific projects, we visit the home-district offices of members of Congress, where Congressional staffers are closer to what’s happening on the ground.
  • Trail visits: It’s vital for members of Congress and their staff to see the PCT first-hand and we take them out there, show them the beauty of the trail and challenge them to help us solve problems and help us protect the trail from ongoing threats.
  • Policy: We participate in local and national coalitions of other conservation and recreation groups to discuss legislation and policy, and we work together on issues that may affect the PCT, other trails and public lands. These include advocacy groups on the National Trails System; the use of electric bikes on public lands; building a pedestrian walkway across the Columbia River attached to the Bridge of the Gods: managing and preserving wilderness across the country; studying and improving federal funding for public lands and land agencies to meet the increasing threats and challenges; and building support for the dedication of a new national monument in Southern California, to name a few.

Key efforts and outcomes

  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): For more than a decade, the PCTA and other groups sought full and permanent funding for robust land conservation through the LWCF, which Congress had woefully underfunded for decades. This program sets aside money from fees on offshore oil and gas exploration permits that is used to buy private land for trails, national forests, city parks and other public benefits. We took our message to Congress year after year, and our efforts became more fervent when the LWCF program expired in 2015. Congress issued a three-year-extension, but it again expired in 2018. In 2019, largely because of public outcry and the persistence of the national campaign, Congress permanently renewed the LWCF and fully funded it the following year.
  • Maintenance Backlog: We continually urge Congress to keep pace with maintenance needs on the PCT. Public lands across the nation are woefully behind in maintenance. National parks, forests and other public lands have been suffering from crumbling roads, visitor centers and trails. Deteriorating infrastructure—exacerbated by increasing visitation and inconsistent annual funding—has led to more than a $20 billion maintenance backlog on our public lands. The Great American Outdoors Act, passed in 2020, fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year and is providing just over $9 billion to address the backlog in our national parks, forests, monuments, and other public lands through 2025. We are working to build on that success, as the problem persists.
  • Land Protection: As the PCTA works to protect access to the trail through private lands, we advocate with community leaders to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed. Without this grassroots advocacy, it’s often impossible to for these types of complex projects to get to the finish line. A perfect example of this is the Trinity Divide, a project that protected 17 miles of the PCT and 10,300 surrounding acres from timber harvest. Many individuals and entities worked together for nearly five years to find common ground—with the goal of conserving this biologically rich area popular with recreationists for its 360-degree views and picturesque lakes, streams, and rivers. The project was completed using private donations, a grant from The Wyss Foundation and significant funding from LWCF.

Interested in learning more about our advocacy activities? We regularly publish advocacy updates in our member magazine, the PCT Communicator, in our email newsletter, Trail Dirt, and on our blog. Join us in advocating for the trail. If you have questions about PCTA advocacy, contact Advocacy Director Mark Larabee at [email protected]

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