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.

Volunteers on the Yockanookany Section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

By Lisa McInnis

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is located along the Natchez Trace Parkway, a unit of the National Park Service. Unlike most national trails, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is located entirely within the boundary of the Parkway and is divided into five segments totaling 65 miles. One of the segments is the Yockanookany section, located just north of Jackson, Mississippi. This section of trail was named after the Yockanookany River, which is located nearby. Yockanookany is a Native American term meaning “Land of the Catfish.” The trail supports equestrian use and hiking along its 23 miles.

Like most trails, the Yockanookany is in need of maintenance, ranging from boardwalk and bridge replacements to waterbars and trail tread work. Currently, portions of the trail are closed to horse use due to deferred maintenance of multiple bridges. Local users have expressed willingness to help, but the National Park Service did not have a structured volunteer program in place to educate and manage trail volunteers. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, the Natchez Trace Parkway has worked to change that by developing a trail steward program.

Parkway staff have recently developed a trail maintenance guide for volunteers, and hosted a training to educate interested volunteers, or trail stewards, that would be willing to help lead other volunteers. More than 20 people attended the training. Trainees received instruction on trail safety, working with tools, and trail maintenance specifications. After a classroom session in the morning, trainees went on to the trail and were instructed about proper vegetation control, waterbar maintenance, and overall field safety.

 NPS employee teaching volunteers during the classroom portion of the volunteer training (on a cold January morning!)

NPS employee teaching volunteers during the classroom portion of the volunteer training (on a cold January morning!)

One of the best parts of the training event was learning how important the trail is to volunteers and the community. During the training, Parkway staff were able to engage with all kinds of trail users, and met people that have hiked the whole Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and many other scenic and historic trails. In addition, one of the volunteers recalled hiking in the footprint of the Yockanookany before it was even designated!

To continue to build the volunteer trail maintenance program, an additional volunteer training event was held on the Highland Rim section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (near Nashville, Tennessee) on National Trails Day in June, 2018. “Building a legacy for volunteer support of the trail is a perfect way to commemorate the important anniversary of the National Trails System Act”, commented Tony Turnbow, Natchez Trace Parkway Association President.

 Newly trained volunteers out on the Yockanookany after the field portion of the training.

Newly trained volunteers out on the Yockanookany after the field portion of the training.

Lisa McInnis is the Chief of Resource Management for the Natchez Trace Parkway.

A Shift in Perspective at the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail

By Kenneth Williams

The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail has genuinely inspired me over the time that I have been working there as an intern. The trials and struggles that African Americans endured offer life-giving water from rivers of Strength. Although having some knowledge of the Selma to Montgomery March, I have never connected with the story like today. The Lowndes Interpretive Center provides the opportunity for me to embrace the richness of this history, making it palpable to many areas of my life. I have always been sensitive to the struggles of the Right to Vote Movement of 1965; but now have developed empathy as I face my fears, rejections, and hurdles. The circumstances are very different, but the struggle is very much the same. The fight for what is right, what is just, and what is true is the same fight that is surmounted only by courage, diligence, and purpose. When facing challenges or obstacles, I reflect on this story using it as a positive response to the adversities I encounter. Having been encouraged to know and trust what is deserving of me, the walk of confidence in that nothing can deny me from obtaining my goal begins. While conditions remain idle and possibly become worse, patience through the process becomes the might in my struggle.

 Photo Credit: NPS

Photo Credit: NPS

Freedom, justice, and equality were the ultimate goal for African Americans during the 1965 Civil Rights Movement. For many, however, the process of embracing their power and potential enabled them to take advantage of forthcoming opportunities that would have otherwise been missed. With Civil Rights leaders and volumes of purpose-driven African Americans, change was inevitable. Yet there were some African Americans, especially in rural areas, possessing a mentality that was indicative of their circumstance. Had they not made the adjustment, this paralyzing attitude of oppression may have very well been the stumbling block that denied the objective.

Freedom, justice, and equality all having been made available avails nothing without the capacity to function in them. This movement has allowed me to witness compelling transformations in response to renewed minds. Civil Rights leaders and a sea of African Americans, who know their identity outside of their circumstance, became committed to pressing the truth into the minds of those who believed otherwise. Day after day through education and witness, those individuals who were trapped complacently in the box of suppression, began to grow mentally far and beyond what they have ever experienced.

Although immediate change in their environment remained unseen, their newly developed mindset would not allow them to rest in the confinement of oppression. Those individuals proved to me that when the mind is in alignment with our innermost being, action has no choice but to follow. Despite resistance, hardships, and pain; nothing can prevent me from coming into the very best of who I am, but first, I must believe. For the 1965 movement, I want to think that I would have been right up there on the front lines fighting for the struggle of the movement. Thankfully, this story has unveiled a mindset in me that is counter to what I first believed. Subconsciously, I find myself allowing circumstances to determine who I am, although it should be the other way around, that is what dictates my actions. Focusing on the situation instead of who I am in spite of conditions produced fear and anxiety, limiting me from progressing in life. I now identify with how African Americans were successful in moving forward by truly believing they were free, equal, and on the side of right. This attitude produced the manifestations of likeness in their external lives.

 An exhibit at the Lowndes Interpretive Center. Photo credit: NPS

An exhibit at the Lowndes Interpretive Center.
Photo credit: NPS

Lastly, the unity that evolved between African Americans to later spill into the consciousness of the world was astounding. Mentalities and perspectives began to stretch far beyond the individual, as the concern for others became a priority. I often meditate on how those filled with compassion, sacrificed themselves for the betterment of the people as a whole. For instance, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could have held position at the Nobel Peace Prize and historically became one of the most respected, notable African American leaders to this date. More significant however was the purpose over self, costing him his life to ensure that justice, freedom, and equality prevailed.

In retrospect, the 1965 movement revealed that I had been living a life concerned with myself. A prosperous life, respect, and the ability to live honorable and true are all desirable. However, I have come to realize that those things are not the peaks of life, but the foundation positioning me to ensure others receive it too. The perspective I have embodied while working for the Lowndes Interpretive Center has created in me a higher expectation: one that promotes purpose and responsibility not only to myself but also to those before me and that reminds that I maintain a position that gives way to coming generations. I am truly fortunate and grateful to have encountered this life-changing experience and encourage all who have not to do the same.

Kenneth Williams is a Greening Youth Foundation Intern at the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

Going "Home" on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

By Douglas Turner

Back in 1965 when I was 8 years old, my father took me on my first backpack trip. We hiked a short section of the PCT in California through the Desolation Wilderness. For me it was quite the adventure. We started by taking a boat ride across Echo Lake. Then we ascended on the rocky trail to about 8,000 feet in elevation. At that point we took a side trail down to Lake of the Woods.

Although my memories of that trip are fading, I remember the smell of the forest, the snow on the ground and one little snow bridge that let us cross a stream. The icy cold water that tasted so good. We didn’t filter the water back then; I would just unhook my Sierra cup from my pack and dip it in the stream. I remember while hiking on the main trail we came across some fresh horse manure and I sang the commercial jingle; “fresh from the Kraft candy kitchen”, and that made my dad laugh.

At that time I wore a little backpack that had the word Apache on it with a red decal. It was a frame with a one pocket bag on it, just big enough for my sleeping bag and some clothes. My father carried everything else in his Kelty pack, which I have to this day. I laid out my sleeping bag next to an outcrop of granite that warmed in the sun by day.

In the morning we made oatmeal for breakfast and packed our things. Our hike out, and the boat ride on the lake seemed to take much less time on the return trip. I remember looking down into the boat at its ribs and planks, hearing the chop on the water hitting the hull as the engine steadily hummed. It was a bittersweet moment. The trip was so fun, but it was coming to an end.

50 years later, with a wife and two fine boys, it hit me. I’m going to take my family on that very same hike! With Wilderness permit in hand, we were off. There’s a lot more people on the trail now, but it’s all still there. As we motored across the lake my emotions were strong. I loved being there again after all these years, remembering the trip with my dad. I watched my family taking in the view of the blue water and rocky shore, wind blowing in their hair; that was special. A John Muir quote came to mind, “Going to the mountains is going home.”

We spent two wonderful nights at Lake of the Woods, and explored all around. The trail is still there. The lakes are still there. And now two more boys have a memory of going to Lake of the Woods with their dad, and mom of course.

Bonding and Healing on the North Country National Scenic Trail

Trails not only bring families and friends together, they often give people the opportunity to prove to themselves and others they are capable of more than anyone thought. Experiences shared on the Trail transcend words, and for those who aren’t able to communicate with words, these shared experiences create special bonds.

Laurie Kass’ 27-year-old daughter, Andrea, has autism. Andrea is non-verbal and is unable to read or write. But Andrea loves to hike, especially through the woods. Hiking has become an activity that has bonded this mother and daughter together in a way that goes beyond words.

 Laurie and Andrea Kass at the finish of their Hike 100 Challenge in 2016

Laurie and Andrea Kass at the finish of their Hike 100 Challenge in 2016

Laurie says Andrea has great trail sense and knows how to read the blazes. In 2016, Laurie and Andrea accepted the North Country Trail Association’s Hike 100 Challenge to hike 100 miles on the North Country Trail to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial Anniversary.

Laurie told the NCTA, “We loved doing the Hike 100 Challenge together, as it was something we both enjoy and it gave both of us a great sense of working toward and accomplishing a goal. I planned it so our final miles were near Grand Marais, Michigan. We made a weekend outing out of it and completed our 100th mile at the ‘Log Slide’” (within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore).

When the NCTA repeated the Hike 100 Challenge in 2017, Laurie and Andrea decided to complete the Challenge together again. Laurie commented on the growth and progress Andrea has made over the past year of hiking during the challenge:

 Laurie and Andrea Kass finish their Hike 100 Challenge in 2017

Laurie and Andrea Kass finish their Hike 100 Challenge in 2017

“Hiking is one thing that we can really make a connection doing together. She has made great strides on the Trail this year in distance, endurance, adventure and initiative. Plus she has even been able to share her enthusiasm for the Trail with others. She doesn't read, write, or speak, but she enjoyed sharing her NCT book with Grandma and also took friends on the trail who had never been!”

Hiking has also bound Janeen Wardie to her son now that words are no longer available. In September, 2015, Janeen lost her son to suicide. Throughout 2016, Janeen completed the NCTA’s Hike 100 Challenge as a means to grieve and begin to heal.

 Janeen Wardie in the Jordan River Valley in 2016

Janeen Wardie in the Jordan River Valley in 2016

The first place Janeen hiked after her son’s death was in the Jordan River Valley in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. Janeen said, “On that hike a beautiful ray of light came through the trees and surrounded me while I was kneeling next to the river. My trail-sister was with me and experienced this special moment also. I believe that ray of light was my son telling me he was okay now. That spot will always be special to me!” Janeen also began seeing hearts all around her on the Trail, seeing them as reminders that she is loved and not alone.

“Hiking has become very therapeutic for me and it is where I feel my son closest to me. He walked beside me every mile of this challenge!”

In 2017, Janeen continued to hike and heal. She completed the Hike 100 Challenge again, this time ending at the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan.

“I wanted to end my Challenge at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge because of the symbolism of it bridging the gap between our 2 beautiful peninsulas. Love is the bridge between my heart and my son's heart…My Hike 100 Challenge has been 100 miles of healing! Nature Therapy along the NCT has been and continues to be an incredible blessing to me!”

 Janeen Wardie at the Mackinac Bridge in 2017

Janeen Wardie at the Mackinac Bridge in 2017

A Journey on the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail

By Michael Taylor

The Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man’s Journey), is an eighty mile waterless stretch of desert along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail in central New Mexico. The name bodes a dangerous place, one that you wouldn’t really go out of your way to visit. But it is actually one of the most beautiful parts of the Desert Southwest, and it contains scores of stories that range from the tragic to the magical. The Jornada del Muerto is part of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior Lands) which is the earliest European American trade route in the United States. Tying Spain’s colonial capital at Mexico City to its northern frontier in distant New Mexico, the route spans three centuries, two countries and 1,600 miles. The Jornada del Muerto was considered by those who traveled it to be one of the most dangerous and challenging sections of the entire camino.

Ever since I was a child growing up in southern New Mexico, I have heard stories of this isolated piece of America. On one side of my family, I am descended from many of the early Spanish colonists who crossed the Jornada on their way to colonize northern New Mexico, and from subsequent wagon train owners who dragged their payloads up and down the route during Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. Territorial periods of the 19th century. One of the first documented expeditions across this desert was that of Juan de Oñate who led the first European colony in 1598 into what is now the United States, consisting of 400 men (of whom 130 brought families), eighty-three wagons and carts to carry the baggage and provisions, and more than 7,000 head of stock. The soldier/scribe of the expedition, Gaspar Perez de Villagra, wrote the first epic poem of what is now the United States – La Historia de Nuevo Mexico, and in it he describes the hardship of crossing the Jornada:

“Water becomes so scarce
That, with their throats miserably dry,
The tender children, women and the men,
Affected, ruined, quite burnt up,
Did beg for aid from sovereign God,
For this was their last hope.”

 Jornada del Muerto Photo credit: NPS

Jornada del Muerto
Photo credit: NPS

The Jornada del Muerto came to be named supposedly because of a German trader named Bernardo Gruber who died of exposure in the desert fleeing the Holy Office of the Inquisition in 1670, his bones found later by travelers who erected a cross at the site that later became known as Paraje del Aleman (the Campsite of the German).

As a teenager, I would go out to the Jornada with my mother, an avid amateur historian (as good, if not better than the real ones) who would take me with her to sleuth out where some of the old campsites were along the royal road. From her and my father, I learned how to read the desert landscape. Working early in my career as an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management I was assigned to “clear” fence lines and other range improvements before their construction in the Jornada, making sure there were no significant archaeological sites that could be damaged on the expansive federal lands that ranchers leased. I learned that Eugene Manlove Rhodes, the popular Western writer from the early part of the 20th century, had spent many years in the Jornada working as a rancher, using the magical landscape as a backdrop of his tales that have been read by millions.

I was also able to walk the Jornada in 2000 from beginning to end with a friend to see what it might have been like for the thousands who traversed the flat desert in centuries past. The journey took four days and three nights, averaging about 20 miles a day which was typical of travelers during its period of use. It was the best walk of my life. For the past eighteen years, I have been working as a cultural resource specialist for the National Trails Intermountain Region of the National Park Service. It is an office that administers nine of the eighteen congressionally designated national historic trails in the United States, one of which is the United States portion of the Camino: El Camino Real de Tierra Adento National Historic Trail. Through this job I had the opportunity to represent the National Park Service interests in the Camino by working to minimize impacts from the construction of Spaceport America, a large facility – basically an airport for spacecraft - sited right next to the Camino in the Jornada which has changed the desert feeling forever. The Jornada is no longer the austere isolated, pristine piece of landscape that it had been for millions of years. A paved road now runs north/south through the desert that will soon carry more traffic, and the skies may soon be dotted with space launches. But on the positive side, one can consider the Spaceport as the next phase of transportation in the Jornada: a transition from the terrestrial trail on the ground, to trails to space –Juan de Oñate meets Luke Skywalker! Recently, scientists from southern New Mexico who are mapping Mars from data received from the Opportunity rover 34 million miles away, have been using places names from the Camino Real in the Jornada area to name places on the red planet. Travelers along the Jornada 300 hundred years ago would be incredulous!

The Jornada del Muerto is embedded in my genes, to the point that, when I am walking on the desert floor, especially by myself, I can feel the presence of many of those who have passed along the same path before. Today, in spite of the construction of Spaceport America, one can still experience the expanse of the Jornada by walking along the original camino real in the footsteps of those who passed before – Spanish colonizers, merchants, priests, Indian slaves, soldiers, and entrepreneurs. The National Trails Intermountain Region, has worked with partners to develop opportunities for you to visit and hike along original the camino real.

Michael Taylor is a Cultural Resources Specialist with the National Trails Intermountain Region at the National Park Service.

Making Extended Efforts to Mark the Iditarod National Historic Trail

By Carrie Cecil and Kevin Keeler

The Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) is the only Congressionally designated National Historic Trail in Alaska and the only winter trail in the entire National Historic Trail system. It comprises nearly 2,400 miles of winter trails that wind between the Alaskan communities of Seward and Nome and the now ghost-town of Iditarod. The trail crosses through a variety of geographic regions including the high mountains of the Alaska Range and the windswept tundra along the Western coast. To help guide mushers through these areas, especially during rough winter weather, the original trail administrator (the Alaska Road Commission) erected tripods at regular intervals along the trail. The tripods were made of three long wooden logs lashed together at the top in such a way that one log extended out slightly further than the other two. The longer log pointed in the direction of the trail. Because the tripods rested atop the ground surface, they were able to bend and adjust as needed to accommodate seasonal freeze-thaw patterns. This meant fewer broken trail markers and therefore less work for the trail maintenance crews who had to lug replacement parts with them out along the trail.

In keeping with the important historic and visual qualities of the trail, today’s trail administrator, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to use wooden tripods to mark the trail to aid in user navigability and safety.

During the summer of 2015, a large wildfire swept over a portion of the historic Trail near the ghost-town of Iditarod destroying most everything in its path, including a number of modern wooden tripod trail markers. In order to replace the trail markers, the Bureau of Land Management reverted to a unique materials-delivery method used previously to maintain the INHT – paracargo. Every year BLM’s Alaska Fire Service delivers firefighting manpower and equipment to remote, roadless locations all around Alaska by parachute from aircraft.

 A BLM crew member collecting a parachute attached to a bundle of wooden tripods brought out on the trail in a paracargo delivery.

A BLM crew member collecting a parachute attached to a bundle of wooden tripods brought out on the trail in a paracargo delivery.

BLM’s INHT program pre-fabricated four bundles of tripods (enough for one planeload), and ship them by truck from Anchorage to the paracargo base in Fairbanks. The Alaska Fire Service then parachuted the bundles onto the trail, then INHT program staff stopped by (via helicopter) to pick up the 16 parachutes used in the drop. The bundles were installed the following winter by a community crew that travelled 80 miles from the nearest village by snowmobile to set up the markers before the start of the heavy traffic season in March when mushers, snow-machiners, fat bikers, skiers, and runners all take to the trail to compete in a number of races that utilize portions of the Iditarod National Historic Trail corridor.  

Sharing Trails with the Next Generation

By Thomas Safranek

I met my wife thru-hiking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Ten years later I am now working for the National Park Service and we have traveled the county for my job. When work brought me to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area I was excited to explore a new place, the Cumberland Plateau. Almost two years later I am still shocked how beautiful this area is and now that I have a three year old and a 1 year old I get to share my love for hiking with them.


The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail cuts through the Daniel Boone National Forest and ends in the Big South Fork NRRA. The trail is named after Daniel Boone, who was given the name Sheltowee (meaning "Big Turtle") when he was adopted by Chief Blackfish of the Shawnee tribe.  

My kids are growing up hiking the Sheltowee just like I did in Virginia hiking the AT. After every turn they are looking for the “little turtle” that blazes the trail, just like I looked for the white blaze in Shenandoah National Park.  Along the way they see tall, wide and even sometimes cascading waterfalls. They see flowers bloom on Mountain Laurel and rocks shaped like chimneys. They hike under or around huge arches and sometimes climb on giant boulders. While I hear some pouting every now and then they are learning to love nature and are excited to hike the Sheltowee Trace on their “adventures with Dad”.


There are a lot of similarities between the Trace and AT. Both trails were spearheaded by visionary US Forest Service land management planners, Verne Orndorf and Benton MacKaye. In the 1970’s Verne Orndorf gained inspiration for the trail from local Sierra Club members who wanted a long-distance footpath in Kentucky. MacKaye gained inspiration for the AT from the Green Mountain club’s Long Trail in Vermont.

Old homesteads, oil and gas wells and logging tracts, remnants of past land uses, can be seen along the trail. The trail wanders on top of bluffs, along ridges and dips into gorges surrounded by towering cliffs. Similar to the AT the Trace crosses private, state and federal land while hiking the trail and has a non-profit organization, the Sheltowee Trace Association, to “protect, preserve, and promote” it.


One day I hope my wife and I can thru-hike the Sheltowee Trace with our boys but perhaps when they get older they will want to experience the trace on their own; that is fine with us. Long distance trails have become more popular over the last ten years and therefore more important. I owe the AT for introducing me to my wife, it challenged me and I am who I am today because I was able to complete it. I want more people to experience completing a long distance trail, whether as a thru-hike or section hike, therefore I think we need to protect our public land so that we can offer more long-distance trails. The Appalachian Trail will always have a special place in my heart and I can only hope that one day my boys will be able to have a similar experience.

Thomas Safranek is a Park Ranger in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.