STATEMENT BY KATHERINE STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES CONCERNING H.R. 2267, TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM ACT TO CLARIFY FEDERAL AUTHORITY RELATING TO LAND ACQUISITION FROM WILLING SELLERS FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE TRAILS.
May 9, 2000
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Departmentís views on H.R. 2267, a bill to amend the National Trails System Act to clarify federal authority relating to land acquisition from willing sellers for the majority of the trails.
The Department supports H.R. 2267 with an amendment included in this testimony. This bill would amend the National Trails System Act to make the actís land protection authorities more uniform.
The National Trails System Act was developed by Congress principally to offer Federal assistance and support for protecting the land base of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. When the act was passed in 1968, both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails were established and 14 more trails were proposed for study as potential additions to the act. The core authorities of the act addressed how to protect nationally significant trails. As we all know, the land protection program for the Appalachian Trail has been a success. That trailís land protection program is, after more than 20 years, coming to a close, guaranteeing through the efforts of state and Federal agencies that every mile of the trail is protected from damaging intrusions.
Supporters of some of the subsequent trails, such as the North Country National Scenic Trail, did not feel that their Federal partners would need acquisition authority to complete their proposed trails. In addition, national historic trails being proposed at that time were seen as primarily commemorative with no need for acquisition authority. As a result of these positions, as amendments were added to the act between 1978 and 1983, a complete ban was imposed on the use of Federal funds for any trail corridor protection outside Federal boundaries for nine of the next trails established under this act. This meant that none of these trails, including both scenic and historic trails, could follow in the footsteps of the Appalachian Trail and its success.
Since 1983, most of the trails established under the National Trails System Act have had language similar to the following clause: "No lands or interests therein outside the exterior boundaries of any federally administered area may be acquired by the United States for the Pony Express National Historic Trail except with the consent of the owner thereof." This "willing seller authority" provides a workable middle ground between the full land acquisition authority used to protect the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails and the complete ban on acquiring lands for the next nine trails added to the system. H.R. 2267 would create consistent land protection powers, to the degree possible, for most of the component trails of the National Trails System. It is supported by a broad coalition of trail organizations across America.
From its beginning, the National Trails System was premised on the establishment, operations, and maintenance of national trails as a collaborative partnership effort. For land protection, specifically, state governments and nonprofit partners are encouraged to protect what they can of the national trails, with the Federal government embarking on land acquisition only as a last resort. However, in our experience, states do not consider many national trails a high priority because they are considered a Federal effort. In addition, while trail nonprofit partners have been encouraged to develop land trusts to acquire critical lands, these have had limited success.
For example, in Wisconsin, an arrangement was set up for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail under which the State of Wisconsin took the lead in acquiring trail lands, with support from the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation and coordination by the National Park Service. However, this process has been cumbersome and slow while land values have escalated quickly near urban areas. Along historic trails, the major means of protecting the trail corridor has been through a voluntary certification process. These five-year renewable agreements between the Federal trail agency and the landowner have enabled trail sites and segments to remain in private ownership and use with some degree of public access. Such arrangements tend to be short term in nature and offer no long-term protection for significant sites.
If the existing widely divergent land protection authorities for national trails persist, it will guarantee that the National Trails System will never be complete. National scenic trails will never be continuous (as the act intends), and many significant historic sites along national historic trails will be lost to development and degradation. Because of the prohibition on using funds to acquire lands, no national trails other than the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails have had land protection plans or pre-acquisition services (surveys, tract maps, inventories, priority lists). This has meant that even when landowners wished to donate lands for these trails to the Federal government, such transactions could not occur.
We have no statistical inventory of trail sites and properties which have not been protected because of the lack of Federal funds for land protection. However, there are plenty of instances where lack of funding has meant that properties were sold to those uninterested in the trail, causing relocations, threatening the integrity and continuity of the trail, and in the instance of historic trails, threatening the loss of irreplaceable resources. Without ownership mapping and other pre-acquisition information in hand, Federal agencies and nonprofit partners have been unable to accept donations of lands and easements.
If H.R. 2267 is passed, there will be at least five significant benefits for the National Trails System and the American people:
1. More uniform resource protection and protection authorities among all the national trails.
2. A more complete "tool kit" for Federal agencies to help protect the hundreds of significant cultural resources and thousands of important natural areas associated with Americaís national trails when others cannot or will not.
3. Full market value available to landowners who wish to sell lands for inclusion in national trails if neither state agencies or nonprofit partners are able to acquire the land.
4. Increased likelihood of moving dangerous on-road sections of national trails to safer, more appropriate off-road locations.
5. Increased protection for endangered historically significant sites and segments of national trails.
The National Park Service has found that administering trails with the current limitations on types of land protection and with no means to negotiate directly with landowners has meant that many of these trails are little more than "paper trails." If the National Trails System is to operate as a system, certain authorities within the act should be applied with consistency. The two trails established in 1968 and all of the trails established since 1983 have had authority to spend Federal funds on lands with the consent of the owner. H.R. 2267 strives to apply that same principle to the trails established between 1978 and 1983, and we support it.
However, we would suggest amending H.R. 2267 by deleting section 5(1)(a) pertaining to the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is a 700-mile corridor generally stretching from the mouth of the Potomac River to Cumberland, Maryland. Presently there are three designated segments of trail. They are the towpath of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, the 17-mile Mount Vernon Trail managed by the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and the 75-mile Laurel Highlands National Recreational Trail in Pennsylvania. A broad, multiple-state consortium of interested organizations have been working more than 5 years to identify additional trail segments that could receive designation by the Secretary.
Although the trail was established in 1983, Federal administration of this trail is only just getting underway. It is our recommendation that no change in authority in the existing law for this trail be made until an administrative structure is in place and the interested organizations that are involved are able to take an active role in helping to implement the land acquisition authority.
For all of the other trails named in this bill, continuation of the existing funding curbs for trail corridor protection of national trails ensures that they will never be completed nor fully operational. Passage of H.R. 2267 will go a long way in establishing parity among the trails and enabling Federal trail administrators to use all the available authorities to protect the values for which these trails were originally established.
We recommend one technical amendment to this bill and four technical amendments to the National Trails System Act. These amendments are attached to this testimony.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or your committee may have.
Technical amendments to H.R. 2267:
On page 4, line 4 after "and" add "inserting".
On page 5, after line 2, add the following new section:
SEC. 6. TECHNICAL AMENDMENTS TO THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM
The National Trails System Act (16 U.S.C. 1241) is amended as follows:
(1) In Section 5(c)(19) by striking "Kissimme" and inserting "Kissimmee";
(2) In Section 5(c)(40)(D) by striking "later that" and inserting "later than";
(3) In the first sentence of Section 5(d) by striking "establishment."; and
(4) In Section 10(c)(1) by striking "The Ice Age" and inserting "the Ice Age".