STATEMENT OF KATHERINE STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION, AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE HOUSE RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING H.R. 36, TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM ACT TO AUTHORIZE AN ADDITIONAL CATEGORY OF NATIONAL TRAIL KNOWN AS A NATIONAL DISCOVERY TRAIL, TO PROVIDE SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT AND ADMINISTRATION OF NATIONAL DISCOVERY TRAILS, AND TO DESIGNATE THE CROSS COUNTRY AMERICAN DISCOVERY TRAIL AS THE FIRST NATIONAL DISCOVERY TRAIL.

 

May 16, 2002

 

 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 36.  This bill would amend the National Trails System Act by adding an additional category of trail known as the national discovery trail and by designating the American Discovery Trail as the first national discovery trail.

 

The Department supports the concept of creating a new category of national discovery trails.  We have some concerns with H.R. 36 regarding the restructuring and renumbering of the existing National Trails System Act to accommodate the amendments relating to the new category of national discovery trails, and the special requirements for national discovery trails stated in the new Section 7A.  The Senate passed a similar bill, S. 498, on August 3, 2001, to the National Trails System Act.  The Department supports the provisions on the new category of discovery trails in S. 498 as passed by the Senate, and recommends the committee adopt this language.

 

With regard to the section of this bill that would designate the American Discovery Trail as a national discovery trail, the Department recommends that the Committee defer action on this designation during the remainder of the 107th Congress.  The Department has reviewed our progress on the President’s Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, and it is clear that we need to continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System.

 

The American Discovery Trail (ADT) was proposed in 1990 as a continuous mid-continent, coast-to-coast trail to link metropolitan areas to the nation’s major long-distance trails, as well as to shorter local and regional trails.  The ADT’s founders envisioned the trail to be the strong backbone of America’s National Trails System.

 

In October 1992, through P.L. 102-461, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to study the feasibility and desirability of adding the ADT to the National Trails System.  This study was completed in December of 1995 and submitted to Congress in 1998.  The approximately 6,356- mile route of the ADT, as described in this legislation and mapped in the feasibility study, extends from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California.  The ADT crosses the states of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, a bit of Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. 

 

By far the most controversial issue associated with National Trails System is trail and trail corridor protection and, specifically, Federal land acquisition.  The organizers of the ADT recognized this early on and located this trail to minimize its impact on private lands.  It is our understanding that there are only a handful of private parcels crossed by the trail, and these occur where an underlying trail already exists, such as the Buckeye Trail in Ohio.  Local and state jurisdictions should hold the primary responsibility for protecting and enhancing the ADT and its corridor on both sides. 

 

The National Park Service administers or helps administer 17 of the nation’s 22 national scenic and historic trails.  They range in length from 54 to 5,600 miles.  Operating costs range from $25,000 to over $720,000 per year.  Because of its length and complexity, costs for the ADT will fall somewhere in the middle of this range.  The feasibility study team estimated the trail’s comprehensive management plan would cost approximately $360,000 over several years, and that annual Federal operating costs of the trail as a national discovery trail will be about $400,000 a year.  Additional, costs would be incurred by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service for the management of the portions of the trail under their jurisdiction.  There should be no land acquisition or protection costs for the Federal government, since responsibility for trail corridor protection lies with state, local, and nonprofit partners.  It should be noted that authority already exists within the National Trails System Act to appropriate any necessary funds to support this trail, or other trails created as national discovery trails.  Funding for this addition to the National Trails System is not currently assumed in out-year budget estimates.  Establishment of this new trail, even if authorized by Congress, would be contingent on Administration priorities and available resources.  Because of our concerns about costs, as mentioned above, the Department recommends that the committee defer action on the section of the bill that designates ADT.

 

We do believe that the National Trails System can be improved at this time by adding this new category of discovery trails, which links America’s cities together, opens trails to a variety of users (as determined by local conditions), and relies on a relationship of equals between the Federal government and a nonprofit partner.  However, such trails must be limited to those that meet specific requirements and are of national interest and significance.

 

The new category of national discovery trails would further the goals of the National Trails System in several significant ways—ways that help update the system to reflect current popular and political realities. The proposed national discovery trails would

1)      link America’s long-distance trails to a variety of cities and towns, thereby providing population centers direct access to our nation’s remarkable trails system;

2)      welcome into the National Trails System a new category of trails for which the primary responsibility for protecting and maintaining these trails lies not with the Federal government, but with others;

3)      allow landowners adjacent to the trail the discretion of changing or protecting already existing land-use activities.  No land acquisition or changes in land use on private lands near the trails would be required or expected on a national discovery trail, since most of the trail already exists as part of other trails or roads; 

4)      be built largely upon existing trails and trail systems, thereby eliminating the need for Federal acquisitions; and

5)      require that an effective private-sector partner is present from the start, rather than following designation.  It is our experience that trails created without such partners tend to flounder and do not serve the public well.  In this case, the nonprofit partner would shoulder much of the coordination and certification responsibility which, in the past, has fallen to the Federal government in caring for long-distance trails created under the National Trails System Act.

 

The Appalachian Trail was the model and impetus for the National Trails System.  When that trail was established as a national scenic trail in 1968, it was well-supported by a vibrant nonprofit organization, the Appalachian Trail Conference, with thousands of members and decades of trail-building and maintaining experience.  For the National Park Service, helping protect and administer the Appalachian Trail from the beginning has been a mutual partnership, with both the conference and the service offering their skills and strengths to keep the trail viable and intact. 

 

Some of the trails subsequently established as part of the National Trails System have not had (and still do not have) strong partner organizations.  In some cases, the Federal agency administering a trail has had to wait for such a group to get started or to assist in organizing it.  Trail partnerships are essential to the well-being of the National Trails System.  Both H.R. 36 and S. 498 clearly state that the national discovery trails shall be administered by the appropriate Secretary in cooperation with at least one competent trailwide volunteer-based organization.

 

We have concerns with the restructuring of the National Trails System Act (Act) to accommodate H.R. 36’s amendments to create a new category of national discovery trails. The existing Act is already complex and difficult to follow.  Every effort should be made to streamline it.

Further, we have concerns about the special requirements in the new Section 7A that is proposed to be added to the National Trails System Act.  Section 7A(a) provides authority for designating national discovery trails on Federal and non-Federal lands.  However, Congress is responsible for designating national discovery trails, and the Secretary implements this action by recognizing segments as part of a designated trail based upon agreements reached with local trail support groups.  We believe that trail administrators, their partner organizations, and affected landowners can negotiate these agreements in everyone’s best interests and should not be burdened by requirements that increase the cost and number of agreements that are reached.

 

The notice requirement required by the new Section 7A(b) could be problematic as a database of thousands, if not millions, of addresses would need to be kept up-to-date to reach all affected landowners, communities and other stakeholders for proposed trails.  Section 7(a)(2) of the National Trails System Act already protects the integrity of adjoining land users by requiring the Secretary to minimize any adverse effects upon the adjacent landowner in selecting rights-of-way for trails.  The Secretary is also required to harmonize and/or complement already established multiple-use plans for a specific area. Thus, we believe the new Section 7A(b) and (c) are unnecessary.

 

The basic content of the new Section 7A(d) concerning the prevention of trespass of private lands is already found in Section 7(h)(1) of the National Trails System Act. This section of the law requires that “ . . . the appropriate Secretary shall also initiate consultations with affected States and their political subdivisions to encourage  . . . the development and implementation by such entitles of appropriate measures to protect private landowners from trespass resulting from trail use and from unreasonable personal liability and property damage caused by trail use.”  Because this section already covers that recommended by the new Section 7A(d), we believe the new section is unnecessary.

 

Finally the proposed authority in the new Section 7A(e) concerning rights-of-way is confusing given the existence of Section 9 of the National Trails System Act that currently addresses this issue.

 

We would be glad to work with the Committee to resolve these concerns.  We suggest adoption of the language in S. 498.  It is clear and does not alter the existing structure of the National Trails System Act. 

 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.