Back in March, way back in March, the American Hiking Society faced a dilemma. National Trails Day, observed the first Saturday in June since the early 1990s, would have to look different this year.
In the past, the day was marked by hundreds of events nationwide at which people would gather to build trail, maintain trail or simply to hike. It was an opportunity to gather with others and celebrate the trails we love. It was as much about enjoying the company of fellow hikers as it was about the trail itself.
While our love for the trail has never been stronger, our ability to gather and celebrate them has been put on hold. What would the AHS do in lieu of the traditional Trails Day gatherings that could draw 100 hikers or more?
Take the opportunity to make sure everyone has access to trails.
Trail access for all
“During the COVID-19 quarantines, more and more people have been discovering the mental and physical benefits of getting outside in their neighborhoods, to the point of a 200 percent increase in trail usage in cities across the country,” says Kate Van Waes, Executive Director of American Hiking Society.
That’s hardly news to hikers in this region. When only 12 state parks had trail open in North Carolina, for instance, those trails and other local trails were overwhelmed with hikers. And since the North Carolina State Park system reopened nearly all its parks and trails on May 22, some of the more popular parks that had been closed have had to shut their gates after reaching capacity early in the day.
A bummer, but most of us had one big advantage: we were able to hop in our cars and drive to some of the more off-the-beaten path trails and hike in relative seclusion. That’s not an option for everyone, says Van Waes, who adds, “many cannot easily get to recreation areas, partially because of systemic racism.” One attention-getting fact, according to the AHS: 1 in 4 people don’t live within walking distance of a park or other outdoor recreation space.
Even a simple neighborhood park, which most of us take for granted, isn’t available to many.
“As the millions-strong hiking community that American Hiking represents grows even bigger, so does its advocacy power,” says Van Waes, “and we need that now more than ever.”
As part of this year’s National Trails Day celebration, AHS is asking that you take the #NationalTrailsDay Pledge:
Join me and take the #NationalTrailsDay Pledge. We’ve temporarily experienced life with limited access to trails and public lands and, now more than ever, realize how much we need them. Together we can take action to preserve trails and fight for equitable access to quality green space, even while social-distancing.
A six-step Pledge
How can I follow through on the pledge? you ask. Agree to the NTD Pledge and you’ll be sent six suggestions for how to protect existing trails and how to make trails more accessible to more people. They are:
1. #VotePublicLands: Register to vote or check your registration status, and request an absentee ballot. Before November 3, get educated on the public lands and access issues you care most about.
2. Speak up: Tell your Member of Congress why preserving trails is important and ask them to pass bipartisan legislation that supports trails, public lands, and access for all.
3. Recreate responsibly. Checkout the info on the #RecreateResponsibly website for tips on how to get outside safely and protect the environment at the same time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Leave a trail or park better than you found it: Once it’s safe to do so without fear of COVID-19 transmission, commit to taking a trash bag with you whenever you hike or go for a walk.
5. Commit to a trail work project in 2020: National Public Lands Day on September 26 is a great way to assist with various projects designed to restore and enhance public parks, forests, waterways, and more.
6. Give a gift: You can make a gift to a local trail nonprofit and join American Hiking Society to help build an inclusive hiking community, to preserve your favorite trails, and fight for access for all. See “Make a difference” below for a list of regional nonprofits that could use your help.
National Trails Day may look different this year, but the impact of this year’s observance could be the biggest yet.
“As the millions-strong hiking community that American Hiking represents grows even bigger, so does its advocacy power,” says AHS’s Van Waes, “and we need that now more than ever.”
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Make a difference
Here are some of our favorite nonprofits dedicated to saving land and supporting the outdoors. Click the link to learn more about their mission and to support their work.
- Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Although technically a North Carolina State Park, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a nearly all-volunteer effort led by the Friends group to build a state-spanning 1,175-mile trail across North Carolina. Learn more and support them here.
- Triangle Land Conservancy. The TLC has been protecting land in the Triangle since the 1980s, and has seven preserves currently open for exploring, including a GetHiking! favorite, Horton Grove Nature Preserve in northern Durham County. Learn more and support them here.
- Catawba Lands Conservancy. Among their efforts, the CLC is the driving force behind the Carolina Thread Trail, an ongoing effort to link 16 counties in the Charlotte area (including in South Carolina) with trail. Learn more and support them here.
- Piedmont Land Conservancy. The PLC has protected more than 24,000 acres in a nine-county region, mostly in the Triad, including one of our favorite spots to hike, the Knight Brown Nature Preserve near Greensboro. Learn more and support them here.
- Piedmont Environmental Council. Has worked with landowners to protect more than 420,000 acres of rural and natural land in the piedmont area around Charlottesville. Learn more and support them here.
- Conservation Trust for North Carolina. Based in Raleigh, this nonprofit has saved most of its land along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but is active elsewhere. We’re particularly intrigued by their Princeville Collaborative project, where they’re working to help instill land conservation principals in a coastal plain community recovering from two 100-year floods in a 17-year span. Learn more and support them here.
Land Trust Day
Another way to support local land preservation efforts? Buy some gear. Saturday is also Land Trust Day, and as it has for as long as we can remember, Great Outdoor Provision Co. will donate 5 percent of all sales this Saturday (June 6) to local land trusts. Great Outdoor has been reopening its stores in North Carolina and Virginia, and will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Find the Great Outdoor Provision Co. store near you here.