“We will be known by the tracks we leave behind” – Dakota proverb
American Trails, a national nonprofit, has launched a new grant program in conjunction with Conservation United, Inc: The Trail Fund. The Trail Fund is a focused program in which the outdoor recreation and conservation- giving communities can invest in the trails infrastructure that supports our country’s natural areas, industries, people, and communities.
Donations to the Trail Fund work to sustain America’s trails by financing trail maintenance, research, and stewardship training programs.
One might imagine that trails appear and sustain naturally, forged and continually packed by hiking boots and tire tread. In reality, trail design, building, and maintenance are artforms that require experience, time, and hard labor. Trails are thoughtfully carved into, over, and through a landscape to highlight its beauty and respect its natural inclinations. Trails are maintained with hand tools; volunteers moving and pounding earth to reform what’s been worn away.
The ultimate effect of this labor is a maintenance backlog on America’s trails. A 2010 General Accounting Office study found that the trail maintenance backlog on U.S. Forest Service lands alone exceeds $5.2 billion. The Trail Fund will work to chip away at this backlog with 70% of funding going to trail maintenance efforts.
Trail users know the benefits of trails go beyond what can be quantified on paper. That is, unless you consider poetry. But the net benefits of trails and their use can and should be studied. Increased data on the economic impacts of trails can inform public leaders on the future of land development and funding.
Recent data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calculated that outdoor recreation generated $734 billion in economic activity in 2016, surpassing other sectors such as agriculture, petroleum, and coal. Outdoor recreation makes up 2.2% percent of U.S. GDP, supports 5.2 million jobs and is growing faster than the economy.
Citizen volunteers lead the way in the management of our nation’s trails, using government resources and their own time. On the National Trails System alone, since 1995, hundreds of thousands of citizen volunteers have contributed more than 19 million hours to build and maintain National Scenic and Historic Trails.
The goal of training new trail stewards is to preserve skills that have been developed over the course of decades, and to place them in the hands of passionate volunteers who are willing, able, and driven to do quality work and to teach others. This initiative also allows for training on the newest trail building technology.
In support of the Trail Fund and its mission, Rhino Trail Markers is including a free decal promoting the fund on every trail marker sold. The decal encourages trail users to donate to the Trail Fund cause through a simple text. Collectively, small donations from the nation’s trail users can have a large impact. The program has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of trail users, increasing funding for the Trail Fund and raising awareness of the immense amount of work that goes into planning, building, and maintaining America’s trails.
The decal is a recognition of the net benefit we all stand to gain in supporting our nation’s trails and the work that American Trails and the Trail Fund do to maintain them. In addition to their economic impact, trails introduce people to the land around them, give solitude to those who seek it, and connect all who use them. Funding the future of trails is funding a core American Experience.