The National Trails System: A Model Partnership Approach to Natural Resources Management

February 2000
ELR 10091
Thomas C. Downs

Our magnificent 40,000-mile National Trails System was established by Congress under the National Trails System Act (NTSA) of 1968 through the combined efforts of President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, and Sens. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.). Private and nonfederal public lands make up the lion's share of federally recognized long-distance trail corridors. Consequently, to help administer each of the designated trails, Congress has authorized partnerships with nonfederal interests, principally through cooperative agreements with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) devoted to trails.

Since the NTSA's enactment, 20 national historic and scenic trails have been designated by Congress, and numerous other potential national long-distance trails have been surveyed and catalogued. A major open space land acquisition and protection program has been implemented for the Appalachian Trail. Thousands of miles of abandoned railroad tracks have been converted into trails, and thousands of miles of completed nonfederal scenic and historic trail segments have been certified by federal agencies. The federal government also has recognized over 800 "national recreation trails."

Thomas Downs is an attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of Patton Boggs LLP, which is assisting nonprofit trail organizations and municipal governments involved with statutorily designated national scenic and historic trails. The author would like to thank Steve Elkinton of the National Park Service's National Center for Recreation and Conservation for his guidance and inspiration. Mr. Downs dedicates this Article to communities and grass-roots groups working cooperatively with on-the-ground federal agency trail managers.

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