Nature's Calling: Trails Still Reveal America the Beautiful
Americans of all ages and abilities will be celebrating National Trails Day on Saturday, June 2nd, by hiking, cycling, paddling, and horseback riding. In their own ways along trails of their own choosing, they will experience a part of America the Beautiful and connect with life.
With over 200,000 miles of designated trails nationwide, there’s certainly much to celebrate. Unfortunately, trails are not everywhere available. For many Americans, they are hard to reach, scarce, and nonexistent.
Here in the Upstate, however, we have cause to cheer. Many people have worked hard for some time—and still do—to make trails and their benefits available to us all. The Swamp Rabbit, Cottonwood, and Palmetto Trails, together with the Tyger and Upper Saluda River Blueways, are just some of the wonderful trails locally that promote good health, foster wholesome relationships, and raise our quality of life by connecting us to more life and natural beauty around us. For descriptions of possibilities here in Laurens County, visit the Laurens County Trails Association’s website at www.lctrails.org and see pages 34-43 of the Master Plan, along with the maps at the document’s end.
Additionally this year, we can celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act that protects our birthright for trails, showcases America’s natural beauty, improves our quality of life with opportunities for outdoor recreation, and is helping some of our trails become realities.
Established in 1968 at a time when Americans were divided over many things, the National Trails System was created by an Act of Congress because citizens nationwide in each political party were largely united in at least two things: their resolve to become better stewards of the nation’s natural resources and a shared commitment to connect people to them with trails.
Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and unaffiliated all faced the same reality of a sickeningly polluted and rapidly spoiling land. America the Beautiful was increasingly ugly. So our nation passed legislation to safeguard its health with environmental protections and make our natural treasures more accessible to everyone, wherever they live, with a balanced system of trails.
The idea of a national trails system had been taking shape at least since Benton MacKaye proposed the Appalachian Trail (1921) and Clinton Clarke initiated the Pacific Crest Trail (1932), but it wasn’t until President Lyndon B. Johnson’s State of the Union Address in 1965 that the idea was galvanized as a national agenda.
Calling the nation to consider closely its diminishing natural beauty, President Johnson observed that, “What a citizen sees every day is his America. If it is attractive it adds to the quality of his life. If it is ugly it can degrade his existence.” Moreover, he said, “the beauty of our land is a natural resource,” and “its preservation is linked to the inner prosperity of the human spirit.” Accordingly, for the benefit of all Americans, he called for a new era of conservation and “an abundance of trails for walking, cycling, and horseback riding, in and close to our cities,” and “in the backcountry we need to copy the great Appalachian Trail in all parts of America.”
Johnson’s “Natural Beauty” address was visionary and timely and received resounding bi-partisan support. It struck a nerve worldwide, too. The country that had given the world the idea of national parks and national forests had now given it the notion of making a nation’s natural beauty accessible to all along trails for “the inner prosperity of the human spirit.”
Three years later, on October 2, 1968, the National Trails System Act became law, made the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail the nation’s first National Scenic Trails, and called for the creation of more trails for the benefit of every American.
Today, 50 years later, there are 11 National Scenic Trails, 19 National Historic Trails, and 1,294 National Recreation Trails, including 21 National Water Trails, all of which belong to every American and are possible because of the persistent will of the people and the cooperative efforts of federal, state, and local governments as well as businesses, civic groups, and individuals. There are also a growing number of state and local trails, like our own Palmetto and Swamp Rabbit Trails.
Progress is being made. Yet, even in the Upstate not everyone’s America is beautiful. Not everyone can reach a trail and enjoy America’s natural beauty. Not everyone has opportunity to experience more of life’s greatness outdoors.
So get out and enjoy National Trails Day on a trail, if you can, although every other day is fine, too.
While you’re at it, consider what more you can do to protect our natural resources and promote trails locally to enrich our lives. There’s still a lot of beauty in America, and in the American people.
(Dr. Bob Bryant teaches at Presbyterian College and is a board member of the Laurens County Trails Association.)