By Clay "Woodward" Jacobson
Idaho is made up of approximately 60 percent public lands, consisting of some of the deepest, most remote wilderness areas in the lower-48. This makes the Idaho Centennial Trail a great case study for the state of our nation’s trail system, rich with opportunities and challenges.
The National Forest Service was created to manage and maintain our public lands for recreational and commercial use in order to offset the wholesale liquidation of natural resources by large corporations. Access to these lands was preserved for future generations by leaders with admirable foresight. However, the Forest Service has been subject to changing political climates, bureaucratic overload, and financial responsibility for a constantly growing firefighting industry. This has stretched available resources for trail maintenance to the breaking point.
The days of paid, professional trail crews with years of experience are largely a thing of the past. Across the country, a new model of volunteer trail organizations has stepped forward to fill the role of trail stewards. Groups like the PCTA and Washington Trails Association have tapped into local interest to keep trails open—utilizing grants, donations, and volunteer labor. In Idaho, the Idaho Trails Association (ITA) had 200 individual volunteers donate 3,600 hours in the field this year. Four of ITA’s 17 work projects were on the Idaho Centennial Trail.
As long-distance hikers, we are all familiar with the benefits of being out on the trail. Most of us have passed many hours contemplating the monumental efforts involved in keeping thousands of miles of trails open. Facing the short fall of federal trail maintenance, the trail community has ample opportunities to get involved in the preservation and improvement of the trails we enjoy. The weeks I have spent on trail with the ITA have been just as valuable and rewarding as my thru-hikes. ITA’s focus on traditional skills, tools, and horse packing has taught me volumes about the history of our public lands. It has allowed me to reconnect with places I discovered on the ICT, returning to clear the very same logs I had to climb over while I was hiking.
It’s about more than just taking pride in our trails. It’s about taking ownership. These are our public lands and our trails. Without the efforts and voices of the trail community, no long distance hike in America would be open for us to enjoy. The members of the trail community play a vital role, logging more miles than most people would hike in several life times. We are the eyes, ears and boots (or trail runners) on the ground. But we can also be the cross-cut in the deadfall, the loppers in the over-brush, and the shovel in the slough. We have the chance to be more than trail users; we can be trail stewards who give back to the trails and the community we love.
Photo credit; Travis Olson