Congress Considers Coast-to-Coast Trail

6,800-mile hike links DE to CA

Senators are working to federally recognize a trail three times as long as the Oregon Trail—which, by the way, is part of the system. (Raul Semoloni/Flickr)
Senators are working to federally recognize a trail three times as long as the Oregon Trail—which, by the way, is part of the system. American Discovery Trail National Park Service National Trail System Coons Illinois California Delaware National Recreation Trail Historic Trail

An unlikely duo is literally blazing the way for America's first coast-to-coast nonmotorized trail system. U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) forged a regional and bipartisan partnership pursuing formal designation of the American Discovery Trail (ADT)—a 6,800-mile path through 15 states—as part of the National Trails System (NTS).

In a long-discussed bill introduced in the Senate on May 15, Coons proposed amending the National Trails System Act to include the relatively niche trail currently facilitated by the nonprofit American Discovery Trail Society.

Enacted in 1968, the National Trails System includes more than 1,250 national scenic, historic, and recreational trails. The longest individual trail is the 4,600-mile, half-complete North Country National Scenic Trail linking the Great Lakes states. With federal support for the ADT, however, Americans would enjoy greater access to the NTS, which Coons says will boost economic development and interstate mobility across the board.

More important, the bill sets a precedent for building future discovery trails, creating a country connected by nature and not just interstates. 

"I'm a strong believer in the value of trails and what they represent," Coons said in a press release. "Recreation for families, friends, and individuals; tourism and economic development for local parks and towns; and the opportunity to connect communities with the outdoors."

Kirks noted that the ADT would especially boost the economics of his state. The trail splits in southern Ohio and reconnects in Colorado, with Illinois hosting both branches.

This isn't the first time senators have attempted to add the ADT into the NTS. Congress directed the National Park Service to conduct a feasibility and desirability study for the integration, which turned out positively. The bill stalled in the House despite consistent support from the Senate.

The American Discovery Trail Society recommends contacting members of Congress to see make sure this iteration of the bill passes. For those interested in supporting H.R. 3022, visit the ADTS website for sample letters and discussion points.

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