STATEMENT OF BRENDA BARRETT, NATIONAL COORDINATOR FOR HERITAGE AREAS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1609 AND H.R. 1814, TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM ACT TO DESIGNATE THE METACOMET-MONADNOCK-MATTABESETT TRAIL EXTENDING THROUGH WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS AND CENTRAL CONNECTICUT FOR STUDY FOR POTENTIAL ADDITION TO THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM.

 

June 20, 2002

 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1609 and H.R. 1814, bills to amend the National Trails System Act to designate the Metacomet-Monadnock-Mattabesett Trail extending through western Massachusetts and central Connecticut for study for potential addition to the National Trails System.  The trail would traverse in a north-south direction from Falls Brook at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts state line and extend to the Long Island Sound east of New Haven, Connecticut.

 

The Department supports this study, with a technical amendment noted at the end of this testimony.  However, we did not request additional funding for this study in fiscal year 2003.  We believe that any funding requested should be directed towards completing previously authorized studies.  There are 37 studies pending currently, of which we hope to transmit at least seven to Congress by the end of 2002.  To meet the President’s Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, we must continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System.  We caution that our support of this legislation authorizing a study does not necessarily mean that the Department will support designations of these segments as additions to the National Trails System. 

 

The purpose of both bills is to conduct a study to determine the suitability for inclusion in the National Trails System of this 180-mile extended trail, which could eventually connect the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in Western Massachusetts with Long Island Sound in Connecticut.  The Trail would largely follow existing trails linking the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in Massachusetts and Connecticut, to the Mattabesett Trail in Connecticut.  New trail sections would need to be developed in Connecticut linking the Mattabesett Trail to Long Island Sound.  Other shorter gaps would also need to be filled.  The great majority of this trail is located on private land.  Outside of sections of trail on state lands, the trail currently is permitted to cross private land through a variety of agreements with the landowners.  As part of this study, these agreements should be examined to ensure that the National Park Service works cooperatively with private landowners in an effort to continue public access across these private lands if the trail is designated. 

 

Although the region was heavily traveled by Native Americans, for whom the trails have been named, it is not an historic route.  Each section was conceived and built by local trail enthusiasts and much of the work was initiated in the late 1950’s.  The Connecticut Forest and Park Association has been the primary steward of the Mattabesett Trail and the Connecticut portion of the Metacomet Trail.  The Appalachian Mountain Club, through its Berkshire Chapter, has picked up the responsibility for the Metacomet – Monadnock Trail in Massachusetts.  Organized volunteers provide the management and maintenance for each trail segment.  If the trail was designated as part of the National Trails System, then existing trail clubs would be given the opportunity to assume a leadership role in working with landowners and communities to address any concerns they may have.

 

The existing sections of this proposed trail have similar scenic and recreational characteristics to the segments of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  The trails provide for a rare opportunity for multi-day, overnight hiking trips in highly populated Connecticut and Massachusetts.  In Connecticut and Massachusetts, the state governments and well-established trails organizations have made substantial commitments to the existing trail sections.  Our experience with other national scenic and historic trails shows that trail clubs can and should assume a leadership role in working with landowners and communities, addressing their concerns to make their trails successful.  The opportunity for good partnering exists in both states and is worthy of further exploration. 

 

In June 2001, Secretary Gale Norton designated two sections of the Metacomet–Monadnock Trail as a national recreation trail, recognizing the outstanding scenic features, geological formations, and natural and cultural resources along the route.  There are well over 800 national recreation trails in the National Trails System.  The designation as a national trail proposed in S. 1609 and H.R. 1814 would, if successful, provide more extensive Federal involvement, through the authorities of the National Trails System Act for this chain of trails.

 

The National Park Service supports this proposed study, as the existing trail segments possess many of the characteristics required of a national scenic trail.  Only through further investigation will it be possible to determine if it is feasible and suitable for inclusion in the National Trails System.  Furthermore, in order to better plan for the future of our national parks, we believe that any such studies should carefully examine the full life cycle operation and maintenance costs that would result from each alternative considered. 

 

If this legislation is enacted and funds are available, the National Park Service would launch a study of the existing and proposed trails segments to evaluate the support for the trail, the impacts of federal involvement on the communities and private property it passes through, and the resources that would be opened for public use.  The study would take approximately three years to complete and would, at a minimum, follow the requirements listed in section 5(b) of the National Trails System Act.  Through this process, the National Park Service looks forward to working with and hearing the valuable input of the hundreds of communities that these trails cross in Massachusetts and Connecticut.   

 

The long title of S. 1609 refers to conducting a study on the feasibility of designating the Metacomet-Monadnock-Mattabesett Trail as a national historic trail.  We would like to clarify that this trail has the potential to be a national scenic trail, instead of a national historic trail, and recommend amending the long title accordingly.

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment.  This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.