Finding Place on the New England National Scenic Trail

By Ben Cosgrove

For the last year, I’ve worked as the Artist-in-Residence for the New England National Scenic Trail (NET), a footpath that runs for over two hundred miles from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border all the way to Long Island Sound. Along the way, it passes through state parks and small towns, traverses towering ridgelines, crosses over rivers, roads, and traprock ledges, and winds beneath bridges and interstate highways. It parades hikers through a diverse and remarkable array of southern New England’s impressively various environments, connecting them visually and physically with the region’s unique and overlapping natural and cultural histories. The NET was stitched together from preexisting footpaths through the New England upland – the Metacomet-Monadnock, Mattabesett, and Menunkatuck Trails – and formally designated as a National Scenic Trail in 2009, an honor celebrating this environment’s continuing role in shaping our national understanding of the American landscape.

Prior to my residency with the trail, I had spent some years preoccupied with the concept of movement in general: for a long time, I’ve been very interested in thinking about how our understanding and conception of a place is so deeply tied to the manners in which we can or cannot move through it. So much of what a place means to us is tied to our ability to observe and process changes in a landscape over time and space, and one thing that my residency has affirmed for me is that the ways we move across that landscape determine the limits of this ability.


This is why pathways ranging from traces to highways – all of the varied and numerous corridors along which the vast majority of our movement is consolidated – exert such a powerful influence on our knowledge of the world.  In most cases, it is physically very difficult to travel across a landscape without the aid of a road, or a river, or a trail, and without an instrument like this to guide us through it, the world is a wild, unstructured place, unpatterned and unworn by the friction of movement. Narrative is a critical element in the construction of place, and there’s hardly a better source for that than a pathway.

In places like New England, trails are particularly important for a larger reason: in a sense they are how the landscape is organized. In a gnarled, forested, intimate environment like ours, where one can never see too far past the next hill or the next river bend, roads, trails, and other pathways are how directions are given, how our mental maps are organized, and how we understand – even roughly – where things lie in relation to one another. This town, we’ll say, is off of Route 2, between Gardner and Templeton; that store is on 128, just beyond the 95 split; the storm tonight should result a lot of snow outside of 495, but will fall as freezing rain inside of it.


This residency has compelled me to think a lot about how we conceive of and construct place in relation to things like footpaths, rivers, and roads: long, thin lines that may change dramatically along their route but that fundamentally affect our experience of the world by causing us to form conceptual links between one place and another. I’d written music before about lots of very different landscapes, but until this residency I had never been led to think about what it means to be in a place that’s 215 miles long and five feet wide. The NET has provided the first opportunity I’ve had to write about a linear pathway that moves through a sequence of places, and I decided to meet that challenge in part by writing a set of interrelated pieces that each reflect different moments along the trail. My intention was that the songs should be able to stand independently of one another – like day hikes, you might say – but I also worked hard to ensure that several aspects of each song’s composition were informed by their relationships to each other and to all the places they are each written about. Hopefully, the result is that – like the NET itself – they can be taken in in or out of sequence and each contribute a little bit to the listener’s understanding not only of the whole suite but of each of the other component songs that make it up as well.

I wrote the songs this way to try and deal with the question with which I wrestled the most during this residency: understanding the extent to which we do in fact think of trails as long chains of discrete places – distinct geographical moments strung on a line like beads on a necklace – or as one long, thin place itself, whose character is shaded a little bit by each of the different landscapes it transects.


I think the answer is that both explanations are true. A trail provides novel points of entry into a chain of otherwise disconnected locales, but it also highlights the ways in which those places are similar, and those attributes become the best way to describe the trail itself. These places are connected by the things they have in common – a certain type of tree, or rock, or accent – but it sometimes takes the imposition of a conceptual line drawn between them for us to make those connections; to think about what Guilford, Connecticut has in common with Royalston, Massachusetts, or what the city of Holyoke has in common with Hanging Hills or Farley Ledges. That this conceptual line is also a physical one affords us the opportunity to continually uncover new commonalities between places that might previously have seemed to us unrelated. Take, for example, a list of towns as different as Bemidji, Minneapolis, Hannibal, and New Orleans: these places may not initially seem to have much in common with one another, but their identities and interests are intimately bound together by their relationship with the Mississippi River – and that also influences the way we imagine and remember those places. The same might be said of the mountaintops, riverbeds, neighborhoods, playing fields, salt marshes, urban outskirts, state forests, backyards, rural communities, and basalt cliffs that are all improbably threaded together along the NET. The trail illuminates the ways in which those different landscapes are literally connected to each other.

Characterizing a trail as a line connecting a series of discrete spots also overlooks one of a pathway’s most valuable characteristics, namely, that it doesn’t only include a series of exceptional landscapes strung together; it also includes all the places in between. In writing this music, I tried to devote attention to both categories – not just the highlights of the trail, but the sections that we might otherwise be inclined to forget about or ignore. And those places, the ones which aren’t as easily noticed or celebrated, are the ones that are most vulnerable: “a place that is not evocatively described,” the author Robert Macfarlane has written, “becomes easier to destroy.” If an artist residency is good for anything, it seems, it should be to help protect a landscape against a fate like that. Most of the landscapes along the NET are not in such imminent danger of destruction, of course, but perhaps some run the risk of being taken for granted. For every basalt mountain the trail passes over, there are at least as many town greens, little roads, forested paths, highway underpasses – all markers of the vernacular landscape of interior New England, so common as to be invisible unless one’s attention is directed to them.


A favorite experience that I’ve frequently had during my time exploring the trail is of talking to dayhikers who know where they are locally but not that they’re on the NET. Invariably, when they’re told that the trail runs all the way from New Hampshire to Long Island Sound, they are surprised and impressed; some are even a little confused, frowning into the middle distance for a second as if to think about just how such a line could be drawn, and all it would have to go over or around. It’s fun to watch them come to terms with the notion that the path they’re on goes all the way to the ocean if they go one way, and to Mount Monadnock if they go the other – and that further footpaths carry it on from there if they wanted to keep going. They could wind up in Quebec or Minnesota. In this way, the barest facts of the trail’s dimensions provide invaluable and edifying context for whatever part of it a visitor might be walking along that day. Walking through the woods feels somehow different with the knowledge of what’s just beyond those woods, what’s just beyond that, and all that lies between there and the ocean. It makes the geography of New England feel less abstract and therefore more finite and precious.

In his essay “Walking,” Henry David Thoreau wrote of his wish “to regard man as an inhabitant, or as a part and parcel of nature, rather than as a member of society.” I’ve been grateful for the opportunity this artist residency has given me to try and highlight the remarkable power of this long, winding footpath to do just that: to draw people out across this landscape and make them feel more fully a part of the environment that holds them. The NET and trails like it are a way for us to interact with and roam over the land, to get to know its size and contour by moving ourselves across it, and in so doing, to better understand where and who we are.

Ben Cosgrove is a writer and traveling musician whose work explores themes of landscape, place, and environment. He has composed music in collaboration with institutions including Acadia National Park, White Mountain National Forest, Isle Royale National Park, and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and throughout 2018, he has served as the Artist-in-Residence for the New England National Scenic Trail. His most recent album is called Salt. For more about Ben and his music, please visit his website.

Re-Riding the Pony Express National Historic Trail

By Patrick Hearty

Each year in June, The National Pony Express Association conducts a Pony Express re-ride on the Pony Express National Historic Trail. More than five hundred riders, men, women and children 14 years and older, across the eight Pony Express Trail states organize to carry a mail pouch filled with commemorative letters over the trail between St. Joseph, MO, and Sacramento, CA They ride in relays, day and night for ten days, as it was done in 1860. Love of horses, history, and the land makes this a major event of the year for members of the association. Most are involved with their families, and I have three sons and a daughter, plus a son- and daughter-in-law who participate.

Matt Hearty carrying the mail into the sunset. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

Matt Hearty carrying the mail into the sunset. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

The following event took place a few year ago during the annual re-ride. We were carrying the mail westbound, in the area of Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge in western Utah. It was about 2:00 A.M. on a moonless night, and my son, Matt, was riding his Quarterhorse gelding, Snap. He was traveling at a good gallop, riding in the headlights of the truck following close behind. But when Snap threw a front shoe on the gravelly road, he veered to the roadside to get out of the rocks. Suddenly, horse and rider disappeared in a cloud of dust in a big wash alongside the road. A couple of seconds later, we could see Snap scrambling up the far side, and Matt right behind, clawing to get back into the saddle. He made it, and finished his leg of the ride.

Pat Hearty on a re-ride in western Utah. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

Pat Hearty on a re-ride in western Utah. Photo by Richard Gwin, used with the permission of the National Pony Express Association.

There, we all stopped to get horse and rider into the headlights to check for damage. As I was the next rider up, I threw the mochila (mail pouch) over my saddle and swung up onto my big Quarterhorse, Fred. Freddie was a veteran of several re-rides, and knew what that mochila meant, so I didn't need spurs to get him rolling. Soon we were out of sight of the trucks. It was just me and that fine horse, and the ribbon of road ahead. Fish Springs Mountains black to the west, and the spectacular starry sky above. No lights, no man-made structure in sight.

The chills began to course up and down my spine. IT MUST HAVE BEEN JUST LIKE THIS. 150 Years ago when those intrepid young riders carried the mail across two thousand western miles, to tie the nation together, this is what they saw. This must be what that rider felt on a lonely desert night, with a horse between his knees and a job to do. In this very place, under these same stars, just like this. Now I look back as a veteran of almost 40 years of re-rides. I have many wonderful memories of times with family and friends. But none so intense as that one, none that has taken me back to 1860 when I rode with those young men of the Historic Pony Express.

Remembering Claremont’s little-known National Historic Trails

By Ted Trzyna

National Historic Trails are treasures that many people don’t realize pass right through their backyards.  How many of us in Claremont, California are aware that two National Historic Trails pass through our town? Not very many, I suspect. The 50th anniversary of the National Trail System in 2018 gives us a special opportunity to take notice of our local trail heritage, along with cities and towns across the country that will be doing the same.

The place now called Claremont is along an east-west route below the San Gabriel Mountains that was first used by deer, grizzly bears, and other animals, then by Indians who often followed animal trails, then by Spanish explorers and settlers, mule trains, wagon trains, and finally railroads and motor vehicles. Two of these routes have been designated by the National Park Service as National Historic Trails:

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.

In 1775-76, Anza, a Spanish military officer, led a group of almost 300 people and hundreds of horses and cattle from the interior of what is now Mexico to establish a fort and mission in San Francisco. On January 2, 1776, they camped at a spot along San Antonio Creek in what is now Montclair, and on a cold, rainy January 3they made their way along a northwesterly route through what is now Claremont. It isn’t possible to trace their exact route from the diaries kept by the expedition’s leaders, only a general direction. Two days later they arrived at the San Gabriel Mission.

Old Spanish National Historic Trail.

This trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Los Angeles Plaza was used from 1829 until the mid-1850s. Mule pack trains carried blankets and other woolen goods westward; these were traded for California horses and mules, which went in the opposite direction, sometimes in the thousands at one time. From Santa Fe, several routes converged in Cajon Pass; in terms of present-day landmarks, this single trail entered Claremont at El Barrio Park, crossed the south end of the Pomona College campus, passed by City Hall, and proceeded westward more or less along Bonita Avenue. In 2018, Claremont Heritage plans to work with others to remember the National Historic Trails that cross our town. This could include a public event, exhibits, a search for vestiges of the Old Spanish Trail, and even permanent murals. Whatever is done will take into account the tragic consequences of these trails for Native Californians. For that reason, I think “remembering” is a better word than “commemorating.”

Ted Trzyna,, is President of InterEnvironment Institute, Chair of the Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), and co-chairs the Natural Resources and Urban Landscapes Committee of Claremont Heritage.

The Path Taken

By Jeffrey Ryan

There was a time when long-distance trails were the province of adventurers able to tackle them in one trip. Thirty-five years ago, I was one of them. Two years out of college and 16 months into a job that hadn't yet morphed into a career, I got a phone call that reset my life's path. My college friend, Mick, and I hadn't spoken in a few months, but he got right to the point. "Hey, remember that time when we were talking about doing the Pacific Crest Trail some day? What if we leave the Mexican border next April 1st?" Just like that, we set the wheels turning to pull off a six-month hike.

In those days, the early 1980s, the gear and food choices were a lot different, and a thru-hike carried the added weight of planning — lots of it. On the gear side, we were at the beginning of a synthetic fiber revolution. Patagonia introduced the world to Polarfleece®, and other manufacturers scrambled to catch up. Gore-Tex® had also recently become the rainwear fabric of choice. Fortunately, we were outfitted from head to toe for our trip by L.L. Bean, who wanted our feedback on the performance of their equipment. On the food side, we were decades away from significant innovations. Peanut butter, mac & cheese, and oatmeal were the default settings. Realizing this, I spent six months drying food in advance of the hike to ensure we had a supply of vegetables to add to our nightly stews.

Of course, trustworthy gear and tasty food helped contribute to the success of our hike. But nothing compared to the feeling of being outside among some of our country's most spectacular scenery for six months. I'll never forget my last day on the trail. I stood looking out over the enormity of the North Cascades with tears in my eyes. It was so incomprehensibly beautiful that I never wanted to leave. I felt that the trail had become my life. But, to paraphrase Thoreau, I knew I couldn't stay up there forever. I'd have to leave it behind for a life of work — indoor work, nonetheless. So I thought.

Jeffrey Ryan on the PCT in 1983

Jeffrey Ryan on the PCT in 1983

One thing my first long-distance hiking adventure taught me is that if I just kept moving ahead, I'd make all sorts of unexpected discoveries — jaw-dropping views, the kindness of strangers, a fundamental "right sized" belief in myself. What I had yet to learn was that the same philosophy would apply to my career. I went back to my native Maine to ship orders out of the L.L. Bean warehouse. But I was no "one and done" hiker. In my time off, I continued to follow my passion. I scrambled up all the trails I could find nearby, which set yet another journey in motion.

In 1985, a new hiking buddy, Wayne, and I climbed Katahdin via the Appalachian Trail. As we stood at the northern terminus, almost 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain at the other end, we had no idea what we had started. A few years later came the epiphany. The two of us were section hiking Vermont's Long Trail (America's first long distance hiking trail). Over dinner in the tent one night, Wayne looked up from the guidebook he was reading and said, "You do realize that we've started the Appalachian Trail, don't you?" At first, I laughed. It seemed preposterous. "You have to be kidding. It would take us 30 years at this rate", I said. Wayne responded with two words. "So what?" So what indeed.

As it turned out, it didn't take us thirty years. Only twenty-eight. On a late autumn day in 2013, we turned a corner to discover a bronze plaque on a boulder marking the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Thirty years after my first long distance hike, I arrived at Springer Mountain a much older and still content man. The 28-year hike had helped sustain me. There had been no long hiatuses from the outdoors in my life as I had feared when I turned to climb down from the Pacific Crest Trail. And I had found another form of sustenance — writing.

Jeffrey Ryan and Wayne complete AT 1983

Jeffrey Ryan and Wayne complete AT 1983

I had started writing about hiking and camping gear in 1987, and I still loved doing it. But I wanted to tell other stories about the outdoors. Once again, I didn't know just where the path was leading, only that I needed to follow it with purpose. Shortly after our Appalachian odyssey, I pulled my stack of trail journals out. I had read and re-read them many times, particularly during snowy Maine winter nights when days on the trail were at their yearly apogee. Those notes and observations began blazing a new path for me. Only 18 months later, I was touring the country as a published author, sharing stories from my adventures and encouraging others to just lace up their boots and go. Two plus books and over 100 speaking engagements later, I find that (of course) Thoreau had it right. You can't stay on the summits forever. But staying true to the path between them is mighty important.

03 Jeffrey Ryan on Tour 2017 ©Larry_Chua photo.jpg

Adventurer, author and keynote speaker Jeffrey Ryan has written two books about the Appalachian Trail: Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America’s trail (published in 2016 by Down East Books) and Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery and the Rivalry that Built the Appalachian Trail (published in 2017 by Appalachian Mountain Club Books). He and his friend, Wayne, have almost completed the New England National Scenic Trail and have their sights set on more hiking adventures. When Jeffrey isn’t hiking, he tours North America in his 1985 VW camper between book signings and speaking engagements. Learn more at

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Fire Effects Stabilization and Trail Maintenance Go Hand-in-Hand on the Iditarod National Historic Trail

The Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) consists of nearly 2,400 miles of winter trails that wind between the communities of Seward and Nome. Much of the land through which the trail crosses is uninhabited and extremely remote. In its heyday during the Last Great American Gold Rush in Alaska (1880-1920), the Alaska Road Commission served as the Trail’s administrator. Among the many duties and responsibilities of the ARC were the construction and maintenance of shelter cabins along the trail. Unlike larger roadhouses, which were privately owned and offered such amenities as warm beds, homemade meals, and covered dog barns, shelter cabins were small and sparse. Typically, shelter cabins were outfitted with only a woodstove and a couple of wooden bunks. They provided mushers and other trail travelers with a much needed and safe place to rest in the untamed Alaskan wilderness.

A BLM trail maintenance crew member posing in front of a public shelter cabin with recently oiled logs.

A BLM trail maintenance crew member posing in front of a public shelter cabin with recently oiled logs.

Today’s Trail administrator, the Bureau of Land Management, continues to maintain a number of public shelter cabins along the INHT. These, too, provide winter travelers with a safe place to rest, recoup, and warm up during their journey. Due to the remote nature of the INHT, BLM trail maintenance crews must often rely on collaborative teams and creative delivery methods to get materials and supplies out to the cabin sites.  

In the summer of 2016, a monitoring and stabilization project for the 2015 Old Woman Creek wildfire shared aviation resources with a BLM cabin and trail maintenance crew to get people and building materials to the Old Woman Public Shelter Cabin. Once there, crews replaced foundation cribbing and installed a new door frame. These shelter cabins are frequently used during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the Tesoro Iron Dog Snowmachine Race, and the human-powered Iditarod Invitational Race events. This puts a lot of wear and tear on the buildings that renders updates like these essential.  

While the helicopter was still available, crews then flew out to two other public shelter cabins to oil the logs. Oiling the logs helps to seal the buildings and also serves to prevent rot. The helicopter was also employed to haul trash and an abandoned snowmobile to the nearest landfill (30 air miles to the west). These small updates and the crews that make them possible are critical to not only maintaining the important historic, visual, environmental, and cultural qualities of the Iditarod National Historic Trail system, but also to making the Trail more enjoyable for users.

Helicopter helping to remove an abandoned snowmobile from the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

Helicopter helping to remove an abandoned snowmobile from the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

A Time Capsule of American History: The Potkopinu Trail Segment of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

by Al Troy

 Hike a piece of early American history along this 3.5 mile stretch of the Old Natchez Trace. This recently designated section of Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is the longest remaining stretch of the pristine Natchez Trace. Over 10,000 years old, the Trace is considered the oldest trail in North America. Originally a buffalo migration route, it was utilized by both Native Americans and European settlers as a trade corridor. During the 1700s, thousands of “Kaintucks” traversed this “path through the wilderness”. They would travel the Mississippi by flatboat, transporting their goods to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. They would then make an overland journey home, 450 miles or more along the Trace, headed for areas near Nashville, Tennessee, and beyond.

The Trace was abandoned around 1820 with the invention of the steamboat, rendering the arduous overland journey obsolete. Although portions of the Trace continued to be utilized as local roads, it mostly fell into obscurity with nature taking its course. This all changed in 1938 when Congress established the Natchez Trace Parkway to commemorate the ancient trail. In 1983 Congress established the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Although the Parkway is the backbone of the trail, there are developed sections for both pedestrian and equestrian use.

In August 1992 I stumbled across the existence of the 3.5 mile “Old Trace Trail” at the Parkway’s Visitor Center in Tupelo, Mississippi. My wife, Cathy, and I came to Tupelo to attend my 35th Tupelo High School Class of 1957 reunion, having enjoyed 266 miles along the Parkway from our home in Baton Rouge. We inquired about trails and were provided a list of trails among which was the 3.5 mile section of Old Trace. No map was available, and the staff warned of hazardous conditions since it was not maintained. Nevertheless, we were intrigued and found the trailhead on our way back. As warned, the trail was crisscrossed with downed trees so we decided not to proceed!

Inscribed wooden plaque at the south trailhead parking lot, August 1992.

Inscribed wooden plaque at the south trailhead parking lot, August 1992.

In January 1993 Cathy and I gave it another go and hiked the entire 3.5 miles, surmounting numerous obstacles along the way including two creeks. The trail was a very different from any other hike we had done, and we felt a sense of history as we followed in the footsteps of the Kaintucks, encountering the same obstacles they did, and overcoming them just as they did. The trail was a sunken road created by thousands of years of animal and human traffic. The banks were over twenty feet high in places and lined with huge oaks.

Cathy Troy crossing Bullen Creek on a fallen log, January 1993

Cathy Troy crossing Bullen Creek on a fallen log, January 1993

In February 1993, I led a Sierra Club hike on the trail, but in the following years only hiked it a few times with friends because I was afraid that sooner or later I would not be able to get through all the obstacles, which were always different from one hike to the next. In March 2001 three of us met our match with obstacles so formidable we dubbed it the “Hike from Hell” and vowed to never do it again. We had intended to hike the length and back again. However when we finally got to the other trailhead we were so physically and mentally spent we decided to return along a side trail along Coles Creek and hopefully in the direction of our cars. We wound up hacking our way through thorny bushes and muddy sloughs for 3 miles! We were scratched up and bleeding from the thorns and covered in mud.

After several years of licking my wounds from the 2001 hike, I contacted Parkway Headquarters to check on the status of the trail and was referred to Greg Smith, who today is the coordinator for the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. He came on the scene in 2001 about the same time I had given up on the trail ever being improved. To my surprise he was passionate about making the trail not only passable but a major attraction along the Parkway. He seemed driven to improve the trail, and I heartily joined him in our common quest.

He emphasized that user support was necessary for Parkway management to devote the necessary resources and encouraged me to contact them with suggestions. Of paramount importance was the extent to which the trail should be left “as is” for historical accuracy. After discussing with Greg and fellow hikers who had experienced the trail, we agreed that the trail should only be maintained enough to be passable without infrastructure improvements such as bridges. This meant that tree debris, clay boulders, and other obstacles would be left in place unless they prevented reasonably experienced hikers from using the trail.

In 2006 Greg told me that the trail had been improved, was well marked, and that the name had been changed to Potkopinu (Paht-kahp’-ih-noo). This name was obtained from the Natchez Indians and means ”Little Valley”. With this assurance, I set out with the same friends from the “Hike from Hell”. We completed the trail without encountering the awful obstacles from 2001.

In January 2008 I led the first official Louisiana Hiking Club (LHC) hike on the trail. It drew 56 participants, a club record that still stands today. Since then, LHC has offered six more hikes and today the trail has permanent markers and is regularly maintained.

Al Troy leading the Louisiana Hiking Club on the Potkopinu Trail, 56 participants, January 2008.

Al Troy leading the Louisiana Hiking Club on the Potkopinu Trail, 56 participants, January 2008.

In 2009 the trail was added as an official section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. I am proud of my role in transforming this once abandoned trail to that of national significance. My only regret is that for some 15 years my friends relied on me to lead them on the trail without getting lost. Now that it is well marked and maintained I’m no longer necessary and can be put out to pasture. At age 78 that’s probably where I’m going anyway.

For maps and information visit

Also, the above story will make more sense if you view the maps while reading it.


Monument commemorating the location of the original Natchez Trace Trail (Potkopinu). It is located alongside Highway 553 close to the north trailhead. It was installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) on June 15, 1920.

Monument commemorating the location of the original Natchez Trace Trail (Potkopinu). It is located alongside Highway 553 close to the north trailhead. It was installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) on June 15, 1920.

Al Troy is a retired engineer and longtime outdoor enthusiast. His interests include bicycling, hiking, trail construction and maintenance, birdwatching, and gardening. He is an active member and leader in various outdoor recreational and environmental organizations. Now that he is firmly entrenched in senior citizenry he’s had to slow down a bit and curtail some of the above activities, but still participates in them insofar as he is able.

Don Shedd's Contribution to the Protection of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail

By Edith Shedd

Don Shedd's dedication to the Appalachian Trail began as a Boy Scout in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, intensified with the Dartmouth Outing Club, grew as he introduced our family and Girls Scouts to the joys of trekking and culminated as a staff member of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in the U.S. Department of the Interior in the 1960s.  

As a couple with a growing family, the outdoors appealed to us. Our enjoyment awakened a strong sense of stewardship for our Earth. We became active with many conservation organizations. As we enjoyed camping and hiking and taught these skills to others, we became aware of the relationship between the consumers and producers of food, clothing and shelter for this special clientele.

Edith and Don Shedd at Betty’s Creek Gap

Edith and Don Shedd at Betty’s Creek Gap

Another link was the growing development of support facilities near the Trail. Originally much of the Trail traversed private property. Tacit agreements, as simple as a handshake, brought together the interests of landowners and Trail hikers. Conflicts arose in some areas. Trail clubs and volunteer maintenance crews added to the need for cooperation. Even in the turbulent times of the 1950s and 60s there was a growing demand for outdoor recreation.

President Lyndon Johnson recognized the need for protection from the overuse and abuse of our rivers, seashores, National Parks, National Forests and Trails. Public agencies were charged with the task of conducting a study of the natural resources. A result of this study was the formation in 1963 of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Having followed the progression of the national trends and studying the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, Don decided to apply. The BOR staff was made up of long term feds. Don was an "outsider". Based on a decision that someone acquainted with the private sector of recreation and environmental interests might be of assistance, Don was hired as a Recreation Resource Specialist. Contacts nurtured over the years came into play, as Don attended countless national meetings and talked with people he had known, becoming the advocate and liaison with the BOR. For a time, he was assigned to the BOR's public relations office in DC, where he helped promote the original Golden Eagle Passport.

He soon began working with the 10,000 Island study, the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Wild and Scenic Rivers and more. When Humble Oil and Refining Co. underwrote the creation of a promotional video, “Wild Rivers” on the wild and scenic rivers, Don worked with the crew of writers and photographers, scouting locations and bringing me and our four kids to appear as campers enjoying the rivers. The movie premiere was released in June 1965 at the annual meeting of the Outdoor Writers' Association of America in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This was a gala occasion for all of us as a family - we were part of something big and meaningful.

Shedd Wild Rivers PressKit.jpg
Shedd Wild Rivers Studies.jpg

Gradually Don's assignment focused almost entirely on the Appalachian Trail portion of the Nationwide System of trails study. He was to make contacts with AT leaders. On one occasion he met with Stan Murray, Chairman of the ATC. Murray, with his years of trail maintenance work and shelter design, recognized the need for partnership among landowners and the hikers who trekked across their property. Continuing this trip, Don was to meet with Ed Garvey, a thru-hiker, who championed the wonders of the Trail, but also recognized what he called its "precariousness". The meeting was to be held at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Madison Spring Hut, one of a string of facilities which provide supper, breakfast and lodging for hikers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Don was driven to the trailhead of the Madison Spring Hut. He was told, "Supper's at 6:00. Don't be late". As he shouldered his pack and grasped his walking stick, he said he thought of us, his family, hundreds of miles away. Off he went up the mountain, arriving in time for supper and his information gathering meeting with Ed Garvey. When word of this trek filtered through the BOR, one of Don's colleagues remarked, "No one else in the Bureau could have done it."

He flew the Trail in federal, state or privately owned small craft, swooping low taking clear aerial shots of remote areas. Gathering Trail and topographic maps, his photos, plus more supplied from many sources, Don spread out a comprehensive look at the 2000-mile Trail. Our adult children reminisce about crawling around on the living room floor learning from Don the relationships among these visual images and information they revealed. All of the information gathered by Don and others was to support the creation of a bill for protecting the AT and other trails called the Nationwide System of Trails legislation.

Gaylord Nelson, Senator from Wisconsin, called the father of Earth Day, supported countless bills leading to laws for the protection of environmental resources. A highlight for Don was testifying before Senator Nelson's Committee. Don participated in formulating the wording of the bill with the focus on protecting the Trail's corridor. He and I struggled to synthesize concepts into workable reality. Overjoyed, we found a few of our words in the finished bill.

On October 2, 1968 the bill was passed into Law 90-543 with the Appalachian Trail named as the first Nationwide Trail. Legislation has continued over the years. Much of today's emphasis is placed on protecting the vistas adjacent to the Trail. Eventually Don left the Bureau, but throughout his life he kept up with the work on the AT and helped support the efforts of thousands of men, women and youth who protect this beloved, fragile footpath that stretches for 2000 miles across the enduring Appalachian Mountains.

When Don stopped driving, our son sold his car for him. Don's one request was, "Save my AT license plate." Memory of Don's work lives on in our hearts and on his brick placed in the ATC's Tribute Garden at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.

Shedd AT License Plate.jpg

The Roving Ranger on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

By Megan McSwain

The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay and its principal partner, the Chesapeake Conservancy, launched the “Roving Ranger,” their mobile visitor center for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The vehicle is the size of a delivery truck and features large, beautiful scenes of the Chesapeake Bay on all sides. The vehicle appeared at Chesapeake Trail locations and at public events and festivals related to the natural and cultural heritage of the Chesapeake Bay. Providing many of the functions of a visitor center, families collected a National Park passport stamp, picked up a trail brochures, Junior Ranger hats, participated in interpretive ranger programs, and learned about new experiences on the Chesapeake Trail.


By launching the Roving Ranger during National Park Week, NPS Chesapeake Bay and the Conservancy staff hoped to build engagement with new and current audiences during a time when America is celebrating national heritage places and discovering open spaces. “We’re excited to start connecting more people to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail,” said NPS Superintendent Chuck Hunt. “The Roving Ranger gives families an opportunity to enjoy learning about American Indian communities and the history of the Chesapeake Bay.” “We're taking the low cost concepts of the food truck phenomenon to accomplish the NPS mission,” says Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy. “With this mobile visitor center we're able to meet people where they are and reach diverse communities with the hopes of fostering a new sense of stewardship and a desire to take care of our natural, historical, and cultural resources that make the region so unique.”


Megan McSwain, Communications and Partnership Assistant

A recent graduate from Stevenson University with a Bachelor’s in Business Communication focusing on new media and public relations, Megan works with both the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office and the Chesapeake Conservancy to develop public awareness of our joint efforts. She has experience in event planning, public relations, and social media management. She has worked as a marketing intern for Medifast, a student activities assistant for Stevenson University, was co-president of the 47’ House Integrated Marketing Club, and is a member of Sigma Alpha Pi, National Society of Leadership and Success.

Re-enacting the Exodus on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

By Susan Sims

On February 3, 2018, a few hundred enthusiastic friends embarked on a relatively short "hike" of less than a mile along Parley Street in Nauvoo, IL. That street has been dubbed the "Trail of Hope" in memory of those who traveled it for the last time in 1846 as part of a forced exodus across the Mississippi River into Iowa to embark on what became the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.


Parley Street is now the trailhead for the Mormon Pioneer Trail, but then it was just a street that led to a river crossing point. On February 4, 1846, it was full of families walking next to wagons toward a frozen river. Hundreds crossed into Iowa that day, and thousands would follow in one of America’s greatest migrations.

The Mormon Pioneer Historic Trail hosted some 70,000 pioneers who helped to colonize the western United States beginning in 1847. Mormons who followed the trail in the mid-1800s were looking for relief from religious persecution, but they joined the many other Americans who ventured West along the Oregon Trail and other routes in search of a new life and economic opportunities.

The 2018 “hike” was part of an annual celebration that brings descendants of the original Mormon pioneers and many of their friends together to remember the courage and sacrifice of their ancestors. Participants gathered for a continental breakfast and short remarks from event organizers before forming a procession that included a mock “Mormon Legion” and flag bearers in period costume. Waving robustly in a brisk wind, the flags represented the many nationalities of the early pioneers living in Nauvoo from 1839-1846.


Horse drawn wagons and an ox cart also joined the parade as everyone walked first along Main Street in Historic Nauvoo and then turned west on Parley Street. Forming around a statue of Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the crowd participated in a flag ceremony and listened to commentary from Mormon historian, Dr. Benjamin Pykles, about the purpose of Nauvoo as a settlement and the journey the Mormons took westward. Pykles explained that the Mormons knew Nauvoo would be a temporary home, and yet they built it up as if they would be there for many years. “They sacrificed so much to build up Nauvoo, but that tells us how significant their time here was,” he explained.


After the brief program, many participants visited some of the historic buildings in Nauvoo to round out their morning. Many participants walked wearing a name tag of an ancestor or someone who had lived in Nauvoo and left with the Mormon Exodus. Most expressed their satisfaction in being able to feel a connection to those who braved the unknown for the good of all who would follow. “I want my sons with me today to understand our heritage because of the sacrifices their ancestors made,” commented Jana Bailey of Cedar Falls, IA.

Some event participants took time to read journal entries from pioneers that are posted on the Trail of Hope markers to gain additional insight on how the Mormons faced their journey. David Moore, of Golden, IL, attended with his wife, Theresa. Mr. Moore explained that their ancestors arrived in Illinois in the mid-1800s to “start a new life seeking economic and religious freedom,” although they were not part of the Mormon settlement in Nauvoo. “Today gave us an appreciation for their sacrifices, and the wind helped us feel a hint of the adversity the Mormons faced as they left their beloved Nauvoo and turned their hearts to the West.”

Nauvoo was, in 1845, the second largest city in Illinois; Chicago was the largest. Today, Nauvoo is home to fewer than 1,200 residents. Historic Nauvoo, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is open year-round to visitors free of charge. The adjacent Joseph Smith Historic Site is operated by the Community of Christ and is also open year-round. Both sites help visitors understand the story of the early Mormons and also teach visitors about frontier life in the 1840s. Travelers who participate in the National Park Service Passport program can have their passports stamped in the visitor centers at both historic sites in Nauvoo.

Susan Sims is the Iowa Regional Public Affairs Director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Discovering Community on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

By Jenny Gaeng

Blink and you miss it. That’s what I thought the first time I laid eyes on Lincoln, Montana. But our driver slowed to a halt outside the grocery store, and I stepped out onto the one road, no stoplights.

We thanked him for the ride. “My pleasure,” he grunted. “Just don’t tell my wife. She doesn’t like me picking up hikers unless they’re paying for a room at our motel.”

My hiking partner and I surveyed the town. We could resupply at the grocery store, and get a hot meal at any of the local bars. He noticed that one of them advertised Live Poker, and suggested that we stay the night. “I’ll pay for a motel room with the money I win,” he assured me.

There are many ways to hike a long trail. Some people keep their heads down and eyes on the prize, storming through towns without pausing to rest. Some people split motel rooms and sequester themselves for a well-earned zero day, watching TV and taking multiple showers. And some people, like me and my hiking partner, hit the town.

On the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, you meet a lot of people. Some of them have lived in CDT-adjacent towns their whole lives, with no idea that the trail exists. You can’t expect trailside magic or hiker discounts. But when people learn what you’re doing, they get excited. They call across the bar to their buddies: “Hey Mark, you’ll never believe this!” They buy you beers. And sometimes, they welcome you into their homes.

That was what Steve did in Lincoln, Montana. It was mid-September, we had 300 miles to go, and the forecast called for snow. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I had started to question if I had it in me to finish the trail.

Steve lived alone in a little house with a screened-in porch and a guest bedroom. He offered it to us immediately, saying that we must need the rest. “And if you want to stick around for a few days,” he offered, “I’ve got some work for you.”

The work he referred to was cleaning the garage, which only took a couple hours. What he really wanted, we soon figured out, was company. So we stayed for a week. We watched other hikers come and go through the town, and off into the snow. Steve made us smoked meat and fish sandwiches. He let us ride his ATVs into the mountains and set up a target to shoot his guns. I was in a whole new world, and I never wanted to leave.

But Canada still called like a siren song, so on the seventh day, we packed up our packs and went. Steve had insisted on outfitting us with new jackets from the Costco in Helena, and a big drum of rolling tobacco. “Remember,” he told us, “nobody on this trail fed you as well as I did.” We offered enthusiastic assurances that this was true.

Some people hike solo, but nobody hikes alone. There is no hiker that doesn’t rely on the kindness of strangers, whether it’s for a ride into town or a bolstered faith in humanity. Our week in Lincoln was just one tiny week in our long lives. But I carried it with me – a link had been forged between a hiker and a town.

This summer I returned to Lincoln, now an employee of Continental Divide Trail Coalition. I had longer hair and different glasses, plus the wardrobe of a business professional. I didn’t know if Steve would recognize me.

I made my way to the park for our Gateway Community kickoff event. In a town where the mining industry had dried up, they were looking to the CDT as a new economic driver. Townspeople eagerly peppered me with questions: what do hikers need? What can we do to bring them into Lincoln?  You have a town full of Steves, I thought. Everything we need is already here.

Before I packed up and left, there was one more stop to make. It had been a year, but I remembered the way to his house: take the road behind Lambkin’s, past the church and the park, and towards the forest. I found Steve in his front yard, tinkering with a lawn mower.

“Hello,” I called.  He looked up at me, and for a moment, he paused. Should I take off my sunglasses? It had been a year, after all, and only one week of his life. Blink and you miss it. Then Steve’s face broke into a grin. “Where have you been?” he cried. “Well, come inside. You must be starving.”

Jenny and Steve

Jenny and Steve

Jenny Gaeng was the Gateway Community Coordinator for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

Los Dos Caminos: Bridging Borders Across The Centuries

By Angelica Sanchez-Clark

One of my first assignments after joining the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region in October 2014 was to assist in the planning of a binational workshop focusing on two of our National Historic Trails: El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and El Camino Real de los Tejas. This initiative involved many partners in the U.S. and in Mexico and soon became a labor of love. In the spirit of cooperation called for in the enabling legislation of these two trails, the binational workshop was proposed as a way to meet the legal framework of both the U.S. and Mexico.

In June 2016, the workshop, “Los Dos Caminos: Bridging Borders Across The Centuries,” took place in Laredo, Texas, bringing together approximately 40 binational participants representing Mexico and the United States from various governmental agencies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations to share ideas, experiences, and develop work plans for the research, preservation, development and interpretation of El Camino Real de los Tejas and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.

Los Dos Caminos field trip

Los Dos Caminos field trip

As part of the workshop, we organized a field trip for the last day to visit several historic sites and communities associated with El Camino Real de los Tejas. This proved to be a wonderful opportunity to share trail resources and to continue our discussions about on-going and future preservation and interpretation plans with our partners from Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. For many of our partners, this was their first time visiting places like Los Corralitos Ranch; Fort Treviño in San Ygnacio; and the Drexel Rio Grande Picnic Area overlook, from which we were able to observe vast distances across the Rio Grande into Mexico and to contemplate our shared heritage as exemplified by the two caminos. More importantly, we were able to hear directly from community members and advocates about what the trails mean to them about the work they are accomplishing to preserve their history.

The workshop was a testament of collaboration between professionals and advocates from both Mexico and the United States who came together to identify ways of preserving and telling the story of our shared culture, lifeways and identity that the two caminos represent. The recently printed, bilingual workshop report captures the priorities identified during the meeting in Laredo and serves as a work plan that has already helped all of us maintain and build on the successes achieved during the workshop, thus ensuring that we continue to preserve, protect and tell the important stories of the two caminos.

Angelica Sanchez-Clark is a historian with the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region.

Honoring Tribal Legacies on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

By Tom W. Smith

Workshop participants gather for a group photo near Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park.

Workshop participants gather for a group photo near Mammoth in
Yellowstone National Park.

Last spring, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the Youth Programs Office at Yellowstone National Park collaborated to host a regional workshop to advance respectful and holistic methods in interpreting historical and contemporary indigenous perspectives. The workshop brought together more than 30 managers and education staff from the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana State Parks, and the Yellowstone Forever Institute.

Caption: Students gather around a tipi circle, as they discuss traditional Indigenous lifeways in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Caption: Students gather around a tipi circle, as they discuss traditional Indigenous lifeways in the
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Here at Lewis and Clark NHT, we’ve been supporting partners all along the trail in utilizing our Honoring Tribal Legacies program to advance the interpretation of indigenous perspectives across the country. This pilot workshop featured presentations by recognized Crow Tribal  Historian and Lead Ranger at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Marvin Dawes. In addition, Dr. Shane Doyle, also of the Crow Nation, presented stories and cultural traditions of the Crow people.

Dr. Shane Doyle delivering one of his presentations at Sheepeater Cliffs, a sacred site for many American Indian people.

Dr. Shane Doyle delivering one of his presentations at Sheepeater Cliffs, a sacred site for
many American Indian people.

Participants had an opportunity to learn tribal stories, perspectives, and experiences. Utilizing the lessons, they evaluated their current interpretive programming and built themes to improve their interpretive programming for the future. Also, we made sure to embed time for all of these great interpreters and educators to interact, exchange ideas, brainstorm with one another, and learn from each other. They explored and discussed what strategies are working with various audiences.

“It was wonderful for education staff from several agencies to come together and to learn more about Crow perspectives. It was a great opportunity to explore ways we can improve education programs to better honor their legacy and traditions respectfully,” said Beth Taylor,  NPS Education Program Manager in Yellowstone. “Both the time we spent outside learning Crow stories connecting people to the landscape and the time spent indoors sharing ideas and planning programs were valuable and rewarding. The Apsaalooke (Crow) are one of many tribes with a strong connection to Yellowstone and we hope to build upon what we learned.”

Second from the right, Marvin Dawes, Lead Ranger at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and Crow traditional expert, shares stories with participants.

Second from the right, Marvin Dawes, Lead Ranger at Little Bighorn Battlefield National
Monument, and Crow traditional expert, shares stories with participants.

Before this workshop started, we weren't really sure what we had on our hands. We knew that A) there are a lot of great interpreters out there along the trail and throughout the NPS that interpret American Indian stories, but do so carefully, without much or any guidance from American Indians themselves, and B) that here at Lewis and Clark Trail, we work with a lot of great American Indian people who are enthusiastic about sharing their traditional wisdom with others. Our hope was that if we put A and B together, that we might have something really special on our hands.

Implementing a workshop for the first time can get intimidating. When you’re planning, you can get overwhelmed with doubts and questions. Will this information make sense? Will participants need or even want this information? When the workshop is over, will they be able to take away useful ideas and strategies? Am I planning too much time for this activity? Is it not enough time? You really don’t have those answers until you get in there and try it. I can tell you that by the end of the first day of the workshop, we knew that we were onto something. Participants were engaged, and often contributing their own expertise and experiences.

Well before the conclusion of the workshop, organizers and participants alike were already talking about what we could do to build on this momentum in a year two and even a year three. Now, here at the Trail, we've confirmed our suspicions about this great need for interpreters, we've found a wonderful tool to address it, and we' re working to develop innovative strategies to capture that success from last spring in Yellowstone, and replicate it with our partners all across the trail.

From left: Trudy Patton and Beth Taylor of Yellowstone National Park, Tom W. Smith from Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and Marvin Dawes from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument share laughs while in the field during the Honoring Tribal Legacies Workshop in Yellowstone National Park.

From left: Trudy Patton and Beth Taylor of Yellowstone National Park, Tom W. Smith from Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and Marvin Dawes from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument share laughs while in the field during the Honoring Tribal Legacies Workshop in Yellowstone National Park.

Lastly, I wanted to note that this project has taught me so much about the value of partnerships and collaboration. This project could not have been successful without the contributions of so many different stakeholders. First of all, the contributions of Dr. Shane Doyle and Marvin Dawes were vital. Their expertise was instrumental. Second, we here at Lewis and Clark NHT did not plan this alone. Beth Taylor and Bob Fuhrman from the Youth Programs Office at Yellowstone NP were not just excellent hosts, but also truly meaningful partners in the planning and implementation. Accordingly, their friends at Yellowstone Forever rolled out the red carpet for all participants. They donated food, provided buses, and even had bus drivers available at a moment’s notice. Contributions that we otherwise simply could not have afforded. Finally, the participants. They took this idea, and just ran with it and made it their own. They, too are subject-matter experts, and giving them all opportunities to contribute not just as participants, but as contributors as well—a brain trust, consequently enriching the experience for all.

Tom W. Smith is the Education Specialist at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.