The National Discovery Trails Act is win-win, bipartisan legislation. This legislation has passed the full Senate unanimously three times and a House Resources subcommittee twice.
What is the American Discovery Trail?
The American Discovery Trail is our nation’s first coast-to-coast, non-motorized, multi-use trail. Stretching across 6,800 miles and 15 states, the ADT links communities, cities, parks, and wilderness, and allows people to hike, bike, or ride horses for an afternoon or a cross-country adventure. It links existing trails, greenways, and country roads. It was named one of 16 Millennium Trails by the U.S. Department of Transportation and recommended by the National Park Service as the first of a new category of National Discovery Trails. Part of a vision of a network of trails crossing the country, the ADT offers a backbone to make connections in our national trail system.
Why support the National Discovery Trails Act?
The American Discovery Trail benefits the local areas: it attracts tourist dollars and brings national visibility. Trails benefit local economies. Many studies have found that trails and greenways positively affect property values, small business revenues, tourism, and even corporate relocations.
It benefits the country: as the first coast-to-coast trail, it supplies the missing links in the national trails system. The ADT connects five national scenic, 12 national historic, and 34 national recreation trails; passes through urban centers like Cincinnati and San Francisco; leads to 14 national parks and 16 national forests; and visits 10,000 sites of historic, cultural, and natural significance. It is truly the backbone of the national trails system.
It benefits our citizens’ health. Walking and bicycle riding are great ways to keep fit and burn calories—and help fight the obesity epidemic. The ADT brings a national trail to the people. It is within 20 miles of 32 million people.
It is cost-effective and benefits local trails. The ADT has always been a public-private partnership, with the vast majority of the work being done by volunteers like us, and official designation will enhance our ability to increase this leverage. The presence of the ADT has resulted in many local trails being developed.
What does the act do?
The act amends the National Trails System Act to create a new category of long-distance trails called national discovery trails and designates the American Discovery Trail as the first trail under that category.
Why create a new category of national trails?
The ADT was studied by the National Park Service to determine its appropriateness for the national trails system. The NPS study recommended creation of this new category of discovery trail, with the ADT being the first trail to carry this designation. The NPS study found that the ADT is an important trail worthy of inclusion in the National Trails System, but it requires a new category because it does not fit in the traditional categories of national scenic trail or national historic trail.
Discovery trails are different, and important, because of their emphasis on being accessible to more people. Accessible, close-in, metropolitan trails have become increasingly popular in recent years. The ADT is deliberately routed through or near the major metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Denver, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C. The ADT is part of a plan to bring trails close to the homes of all Americans.
Why do we want this designation?
The American Discovery Trail belongs in the National Trails System! It brings unique qualities to the system; it supplies connections that are currently missing.
We need the designation to be able to fully mark the trail. The trail is in legal limbo. The National Park Service has recommended it for inclusion in the National Trails System but it has not yet been designated. Therefore, a large number of federal and other land managers will not allow us to mark the trail on the lands they administer.
It will legitimize and bring visibility to the trail in many ways. As part of the National Trails System, the trail will be eligible for technical assistance and other support from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.
Be ready for property rights questions! Some people have opposed the ADT because of property rights concerns—but there is no way that the ADT threatens anyone’s property rights.
The legislation does not have to do with land acquisition, but with a designation and recognition. The trail is already almost entirely on public land, and the few exceptions where the ADT is on private land, it is by landowner invitation on existing rights-of-way or by agreement. The trail is some 6,800 miles long, and perhaps 100 miles are not on public land. So more than 98% is on public land—and even many of the “private” miles are designed to be publicly accessible. For example, Indiana’s Cardinal Greenway is technically privately owned, but it is owned by a nonprofit with the mission of making the trail accessible to the public. That accounts for 30 of those “private” miles. Iowa’s Cedar Valley Nature Trail accounts for another 25. In addition, the bill contains language that prohibits Federal land acquisitions for the ADT.