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 The American Discovery Trail: Connecting America

By Senator Frank H. Murkowski

Spanning America's East and West coasts, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is 5,000 miles of unparalleled natural splendor -- a landscape featuring mountains ad valleys; lakes, rivers, and streams; desert plains and fertile fields; big cities and small towns. and through it all run hundreds of trails. I propose to link those trails to create the nation's first coast-to-coast , inter-connected multi-use trail. It promises to become the Route 66 of American recreation.

Our trails are passageways into America's treasured places. As chairman of the senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I want to encourage people to enjoy the Great Outdoors by making those places more inviting and accessible to more Americans. That is why I introduced legislation to create the American Discovery Trail (ADT) as part of the National Trails System.

From Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, the ADT is about connections. It connects six national scenic trails, 10 national historic trails, 23 national recreational trails, and hundreds of local and regional trails. It connects 14 national parks ad 16 national forests. It connects people and places across America, providing for diverse experiences within our national landscape. And it connects local and national organizations through creative partnerships and volunteer efforts.

Who will use the ADT? Thousands of people like you and me. While relatively few people will hike the entire trail, many will use segments in their region, particularly for weekend recreation since it skirts major cities such as San Francisco, Kansas City, and Chicago. With 32 million people living within 20 miles of the dozen urban access areas, the ADT is expected to draw more users than the four million who use the Appalachian Trail each year.

The proposed route of the ADT crosses California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. in Denver, it splits into two routes, The Northern Midwest route travels through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. The Southern Midweat route explores Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. After rejoining just west of Cincinnati, the route continues through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Delaware.

The ADT has already brought people together. More than 100 organizations along the trail's 6000 miles support the effort, with an active ADT coordinating committee established in each state along the route. The strong grassroots effort, together with financial support from Backpacker magazine, the Trails Illustrated Division of National Geographic, the Coleman Company, Ecco USA, and others helped take the ADT from dream to reality. Nevertheless, one last step must be made before the dream is realized; Congress must authorize the trails as part of our National Trails System. The legislation, which enjoys the support of senators from both political parties, completes the job. It would be fitting to establish the ADT during the 105th Congress to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968.

Under my bill, existing trail uses will remain largely unchanged, and no additional lands or interests will be acquired by the federal government. Administration of the ADT would be from the bottom up, with local public involvement and local and state governments supporting the trail. Only technical assistance will be provided by federal agencies. There will be little or no cost to the taxpayer because volunteers and non-profit groups will be heavily involved. The Department of The Interior and other federal agencies will be required to cooperate with a competent non-profit organization in the administration of the ADT. Finally, the project will take three years to complete.

The American Discovery Trail is part of the outdoor recreation initiative. While I believe in a limited federal government, there are still things that can be done to enhance outdoor recreation, particularly on federal land. By connecting existing trails and creating the first coast-coast trail, we can raise the visibility of many healthy leisure time pursuits. We must conserve our natural bounty while, at the same time, exposing more people to America's natural and cultural splendors. The ADT is a fine way to accomplish both goals.

November 1997

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