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.

Videos Capture the Thru-Hike Experience on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

By Eric Wollberg

On the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, thru-hiking season is underway. In celebration, here is a collection of some of our favorite videos about the trail made by PNT thru-hikers. We hope they help inspire you to #findyourtrail in 2018.

This assortment of short clips and feature length films show just how much the PNT has changed over the last decade and how different each hiker’s experience can be. Each film captures a glimpse of the challenges and natural beauty experienced by trekking against the grain of seven different mountain ranges, on a 1,200 mile #crowntocoast adventure.

Andrew Skurka, Pacific Northwest Trail, 2007

Follow adventure athlete Andrew Skurka as he tangles with a classic PNT bushwhack in
this short clip. Skurka shares, “what it’s sometimes like to hike the PNT,” with this video
taken along the Leola Creek Trail–a nearly “lost trail” notorious for being difficult to
follow and choked with fast-growing alder and other dense brush.

Experience the PNT from Jeff Kish on Vimeo.

The joy of thru-hiking and unmatched natural beauty of the Northwest is revealed in
Experience the PNT, a short film created by Jeff Kish. These enchanting images of the
trail were captured during his formative end-to-end journey along the Pacific Northwest
Trail in 2014.

Alex “Money Shot” Maier, A Sense of Direction, 2015

Alex Maier’s feature-length film, A Sense of Direction, captures the camaraderie and
friendship forged hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail from end-to-end. Maier’s interviews
with the group of long-distance backpackers who braved the PNT in 2015 give a sense
of the challenges and rewards hikers face along the trail.

Long walks through wilderness offer ample time for reflection and demand we face
adverse conditions. Filmmaker Julie Hotz’ mesmerizing short, Wandering Thru, pairs
dream-like imagery with her meditation on the hard-earned gifts granted those who
struggle against the grain.

Explore the most inaccessible portions of the trail through the keen eyes of a thru-hiker.
David Zermeno’s carefully and thoroughly documented film is shot in the first-person
perspective without comment. The rugged beauty and solitude found on the PNT are
driven home in Zermeno’s short–its sparse soundtrack lets the sounds of nature of

“Iceberg,” The Yaak, 2017

Like mountain weather, the mood at the onset of a long-distance trip can change suddenly.
Iceberg’s earnest narration expresses the raw excitement, joy, and frustration experienced
during the first hard-felt weeks of a thru-hike, and the help friends and good samaritans
lend along the way.

Celebrating Outdoor Recreation and History on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail

A true partnership effort! The Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA), Mesa County, the Bureau of Land Management, Western Colorado Interpretive Association, and the National Park Service's National Trails Intermountain Region (NTIR) teamed up in 2016, to hold a “Back to the Trail” health and wellness event along the Old Spanish National Historic Trail (NHT). The event was the first of its kind along the trail and captured the interest of many Grand Junction, Colorado, residents who were unfamiliar with the trail and its history. It was also celebrated as a National Park Service Centennial event for the Old Spanish NHT.

Activities included a guided history hike, yoga, mountain biking, and horseback riding along the historic trail. Sarah Shrader, owner of Bonsai Design, one of the world’s leading companies in outdoor recreation in parks, was also a guest speaker.

The event was a great success with participation from many local community members, including the mountain biking group Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) and the Colorado Backcountry Horsemen. Attendees of all ages came and connected to the trail through recreation and healthy outdoor activities.

Above: Some of the event’s participants and the activities they engaged in along the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Grand Junction, Colorado

Above: Some of the event’s participants and the activities they engaged in along the Old Spanish
National Historic Trail in Grand Junction, Colorado

Open to the public for more than 20 years, this segment of national historic retracement trail is approximately seven miles long and is located about three miles southeast of the City of Grand Junction, Colorado. The trail terrain is moderate enough for beginners and gives spectacular views of the Gunnison River and desert landscapes, which made it the perfect setting for this event. Funded through a National Park Foundation (NPF) Active Trails Grant, the project raised awareness of the Old Spanish NHT through the enhancement of recreational and educational opportunities along this section of the trail.

The event was repeated in 2017, and the project has become a model for other recreational development along the OSNHT. All involved look forward to continuing to strengthen the connection between participants and the Old Spanish NHT in the coming years.

Experiencing Art on the New England National Scenic Trail

By Charles Tracy

The New England National Scenic Trail (NET) has worked with a variety of artists to connect people to the outdoors with poetry, music, photography, films, and more.   

If you visited the NET during the summer and fall of 2017, you would have found Scenic Kiosks created by artist William Van Beckum. Drawing on the tradition of scenic imagery in the American conservation movement, these installations followed the example set by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston to encourage tourism, recreation, and conservation efforts.

The images on these kiosks were created by appropriating photographs posted to Instagram by hikers. Each image is made up of 20-50 images from each trail section, creating a visualized record of the community’s involvement with the trail.

The value of the New England National Scenic Trail is monumental. These kiosks are meant to harness the power of scenic imagery in celebration of the NET and encourage community members to share their landscape experience through social media.

In 2013, The National Park Service, in cooperation with the Appalachian Mountain Club and Connecticut Forest & Park Association, presented TO BE AT THE FARTHER EDGE: Photographs along the New England Trail/Barbara Bosworth, an exhibition of panoramic photographs taken along the trail over course of a year. The photographs were displayed at nine different sites – each with its own relationship to the trail – to form a unique exhibition that viewers could experience at their own pace and following their own path. The exhibition included a series of events ranging from hiking with the artist to lectures and discussions, all of which were enthusiastically attended.

As artist-in-residence on the trail, Bosworth thought about what it meant to make pictures “of” the NET – posing questions that led her to other questions, starting with the most basic: What is a trail? How does it come into being; how is it marked; how is it used, and how is it maintained? What flora and fauna are integral to it; what is its geological history? What is its history in terms of human use? Does it serve a function, or do we travel it for less tangible reasons, for its scenery, its views and vistas, its sounds and smells? What is trailness?

Sunset from Provin Mountain.jpg

Bosworth’s photographs reflect her own responses to these questions, based on her experiences on the trail, as well as in the lecture halls, natural history museums, historical societies, and libraries that she frequents to feed her wide-ranging curiosity. In her photographs, Bosworth reveals her own interests in the trail, as an artist with a deep interest in geology, and as a photographer whose art flows in the wake of her inquiries into the natural world. She has pursued her questions about where – really where? – it is that we find ourselves. What is around us; how did it get there; what do we do with it; what does it do to us?

In 2012, the National Park Service’s Youth Ambassador Program (YAP) created a music video for the NET. With a storyline inspired by The Matrix, the video has registered thousands of views on YouTube and energized young people across New England to "find their adventure" on the NET. It has also spurred other national trails to produce their own dance videos.

Impressed by the energy and style of YAP's earlier video, "Get Outside and Move," which encourages people to explore parks and trails in their backyard, "we invited them to work with us on the NET," said Charles Tracy, NPS Trail Administrator. "Witnessing the creative process of this team of young artists was impressive. YAP approached the project with professionalism and brought fresh ideas to the table. YAP helped our partnership see that peer-to-peer communication is one of the most effective strategies." The project goals were to generate greater awareness of the NET and to encourage New England youth to get active.

most important NET.jpg

Building on the success of the video, YAP continues to expand awareness through school visits where the YAP team members show their videos and share their outdoor experiences. The NET's trail partners, Appalachian Mountain Club and Connecticut Forest & Park Association, are also using the video as part of their outreach programs.

In 2016, David Leff became the NET’s first poet in residence. He was selected for his extensive experience as a hiker, conservationist, and nature poet. Leff led a popular series of poetry-based trail hikes and several nature poetry writing workshops, in partnership with the Emily Dickinson Museum and Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. He used his residency to probe the idea of “trailness” -- the notion that connectivity is critical to human affairs and is also represented physically by a continuous footpath -- through a series of haibun, a marriage of prose and haiku.  The Story Map Half a Million Footsteps: Deep Traveling the New England Trail is an innovative and engaging vision of Leff's residency.


A project led by visiting lecturer Carolina Aragon in 2014 gave Smith College students the opportunity to create compelling art while working to connect a local community with the local landscape.  In Parks to People, a community-based art project, students in Aragon’s Landscape Studies Studio worked with an after-school group of sixth- to eighth-graders from the William R. Peck School in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Their goal was to create art and inspire the public to visit the New England National Scenic Trail and local parks such as the Mount Tom State Reservation. The younger students visited the landscape studies studio at Smith to create T-shirt designs and joined Smith students on a hiking trip to Mount Tom, accompanied by local geology and botany experts. Later, the group worked together at the Peck School on collages, watercolors, postcards and maps that were eventually exhibited at the Holyoke Public Library and on regional transit buses.

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“It was wonderful to work with such an enthusiastic and hard-working group of Smith students. From the very beginning they were very interested in creating a tangible project for the public, while being mentors and teachers to the younger students,” Aragon said. “They taught students about art and composition and developed a great working relationship with the students.”

Have you experience these or other art on the trail projects? Visitors are invited to join the conversation by using the Instagram hashtag #myNEtrail to share their images with other hikers.

Charles Tracy is the National Park Service Trail Administrator for the New England National Scenic Trail.


Humanism Along Two National Scenic Trails

By J.J. King

Family and friends have asked which trail rates as my favorite hiking experience.  Regardless of mileage, time duration, or designation status, every trail presents a unique topography and organic roster of fauna and flora.  As unique as each human who laces a pair of shoes and dons a pack, so too are these glorious paths.

After many years of experiencing the pleasures of long-distance rambles, I sometimes wonder if my fellow hikers realize that they are actively promoting and reaffirming one of the greatest privileges we enjoy as Americans ... freedom.  Freedom to embrace an unbridled life along these trails.  An experience hallmarked with opportunities for discovery, exploration and personal growth.

Our intrepid adventures also provide another defining component within the hiking community.  We are blessed by fortunate encounters with fellow citizens known as “Trail Angels.”  Good-natured souls, their genuine kindness, generosity and support allow for greater enjoyment of the outdoors.  Indeed, the ideal of humanism is alive and vibrant along the National Scenic Trails.

along the Pacific Crest in the Angeles National Forest in California

along the Pacific Crest in the Angeles National Forest in California

I hiked on two National Scenic Trails during 2017.  My original goal was to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  I commenced this grand saunter on April 25th.  Similar to a previous thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I encountered many examples of support from countless Trail Angels.  Boxes of bottled water and groceries were seemingly available when most needed.  Volunteers at Warner Springs Welcome Center offered many services, including refreshing bucket showers.  Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce hosted remarkable hiker support:  laundry, shuttles, Internet and mail service, and camping ... among inquisitive chickens.  

But on May 30th, after completing 517 miles, my ambitious trek drew to a close.  Due to an injury, I departed the trail.  Humanism was perceived yet again, as a shuttle was provided to obtain a rental car.  At that moment, I could not appreciate that my summer would nevertheless end in a rewarding manner.  That while a hike of the entire PCT was not possible, exceptional generosity and kindness was awaiting in Wisconsin.

Hiking the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (IAT) from July 28 to October 7, 2017 promoted a deep and profound connection with one of America’s most notable citizens, and also with remarkable ordinary citizens.  It afforded a palpable connection with a giant champion of the great outdoors, John Muir.  Rambling over rocky moraines, impressively straight eskers, and circular-shaped kettles, I gained many opportunities to better appreciate how Muir developed an advanced level of knowledge of glacial physics.  But the IAT also provided ample evidence that goodwill in the Badger State is alive, unconditional, and vibrant.  Humanism need not wait until scripted seasonal holidays as prescribed by one’s calendar.

Near Ennis Lake along the Ice Age Trail

Near Ennis Lake along the Ice Age Trail

My saunter included a campsite at Ennis Lake, the site of Muir’s homestead upon immigrating from Dunbar, Scotland in 1849.  While each segment of the IAT rightly claims its own reserve of natural tranquility and remnants of immense glaciology, camping here was a vaulted highlight of my entire hike.  Not only was I fully connected with my naturalist hero, I also cheered genuine humanism at an Amish bakery before making camp.

At first glance, I paid little attention to the “Nature Trails Bakery” sign, having passed it to access Ennis Lake.  But I was compelled to reverse course and ventured down a dirt road.  Soon, I accessed an Amish farm with a building featuring a prominent smokestack, emanating a most pleasing aroma.  Warmly greeted inside, I witnessed shelves of bread, cookies, donuts, muffins and pies.  Our conservation was cordial and educational.  Mysteries of how these treats were crafted were revealed.  My backpack was equally intriguing as it mirrored a simplified life.  After choosing a delicious cherry pie for supper, and a lip-smacking loaf of cinnamon bread for breakfast, we exchanged fond farewells.  But upon starting down the dirt road, my new friend came running to provide his business card.  His kind spirit was uplifting.

Nature Trails Bakery along the Ice Age Trail

Nature Trails Bakery along the Ice Age Trail

I was offered countless acts of kindness from total strangers in some rather remarkable ways.  However, the moniker of stranger quickly faded and assumed a kinder title of friend, promoting an element of humanism not as easily observed within urban environments.  Twice while enjoying lunch on the side of a dirt road, a car slowly came to a stop.  The driver’s window was lowered.  A hand was extended grasping a wad of cash.  “This is for you.  Have a nice day.”  As my offers of money for shuttle rides into towns were cheerfully declined, I too gratefully declined any resemblance of monetary exchange.              

One Trail Angel expressed an equal interest to find my lost American Flag.  Somehow my prized patriotic banner became dislodged from my pack’s webbing.  It was proudly flown during my cross-country bicycle ride, my attempt of the PCT, and (nearly) across Wisconsin.  This flag had seen more of America than many Americans!  His motivating spirit to locate it was refreshing to witness.  To inject some humor, I named the flag “Wilson” in reference to the volleyball lost by actor Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway.  “Wilson!  Wilson!!”  Similar to the fate of the drifting volleyball, our repeated calls never resulted in its recovery.



Indeed, the National Scenic Trails provide opportunities to celebrate both iconic topography and human spirituality.  They quietly beckon us to experience inspirational leaders and everyday citizens.  They solidly reaffirm a warm human character transparent among Americans.  They abruptly hush negativity and sadness often aired on radio, reported by printed media, and broadcast by computer and television.  These trails are a conduit of humanism in its purest form.  Here one may celebrate our national heritage ... a spirit of the land itself, and the spirit of countless citizens who promote a profound sense of humanism and stewardship.  There is perhaps no other outdoor pursuit that provides such promise and reward as our National Scenic Trails.  

J.J. King resides in Jackson, Wyoming when not living in a tent.  He returned to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in April 2018.

Historic Japanese Musher Becomes Cultural Bridge Between Japan and Alaska

By Carrie Cecil and Kevin Keeler

In its heyday during the Last Great American Gold Rush (1880 – 1920), thousands of people travelled along what is now recognized as the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Among the main users of the winter trail system were mail carriers. Clad in thick parkas and heavy fur mitts, these mail carriers relied on their dogsleds to help them make their deliveries. Mail carriers and their dogs were the heroes of the trail; they were a lifeline between the residents of remote Alaska communities and the “outside” world. Today, the efforts and accomplishments of these mushing mail carriers and the many other individuals that helped to shape the Iditarod trail continue to be celebrated.

Years of advocacy by Iditarod National Trail enthusiast to memorialize the records of historic Japanese musher Jurjiro Wada are resulting in growing bonds between the people of Alaska and Japan. Jujiro Wada was born in 1875 in a small town called Komatsu-cho in western Japan. Seeking new opportunities and adventures, Wada immigrated to California before eventually settling in Alaska where he became a talented dog musher. Wada was one of the early pioneers of the historic Iditarod Trail, helping to scout the route between Seward and the now ghost-town of Iditarod. He is also recognized for his role in the founding of the city of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Bronze statue of Jujiro Wada, famous musher of the Iditarod historic trail, erected in the town ofSeward, Alaska. (Image provided by the Bureau of Land Management.)

Bronze statue of Jujiro Wada, famous musher of the Iditarod historic trail, erected in the town ofSeward, Alaska. (Image provided by the Bureau of Land Management.)

 In his home town and country, Wada is considered a hero for his exploits. A century later, the citizens and government of Seward, Alaska have become sister cities with Wada’s hometown, and have hosted a number of visiting foreign delegations. In 2016, a bronze statue of Wada, funded and forged from local donations, was dedicated to the town of Seward. The statue was unveiled during a public ceremony with local residents of Seward and Japanese visitors alike taking part in the festivities.

Later in 2016, NHK TV, a Tokyo based news station broadcast a short documentary on Wada and Alaskan efforts to memorialize him.