The Rte. 66 of American Recreation

Congress will consider nation's first coast-to-coast, multi-use trail

Five thousand miles of unparalleled splendor - mountains and valleys; lakes, rivers, and streams; desert plains and fertile fields, big cities and small towns - span America's East and West Coasts. Through it all run hundreds of trails. I want to link the trails to make the nation's first coast-to-coast, interconnected, multi-use trail. It promises to become the Route 66 of American recreation.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, my aim is to encourage people to use the outdoors by making these places more inviting and accessible to more Americans. I've introduced legislation that would create the American Discovery Trail (ADT) as part of the National Trails System.

From Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, the ADT connects six national scenic trails, 10 national historic trails, 23 national recreational trails, and hundreds of local and regional trails. It connects 14 national parks and 16 national forests. It provides for diverse experiences within our natural landscape. And it connects local and national organizations through creative partnerships and volunteer efforts.

While relatively few people will hike the entire trail, many will use segments in their region, particularly for weekend recreation, since it skirts big cities such as San Francisco, Kansas City, and Chicago. With 32 million people living within 20 miles of the dozen urban access areas, the ADT is expected to draw more users than the 4 million who use the Appalachian Trail each year.

The proposed route of the ADT crosses California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. In Denver, it splits into two routes. The northern Midwest route travels through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. The southern Midwest route explores Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. After rejoining just west of Cincinnati, the route continues through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Delaware.

More than 100 organizations along the trail's 6,000 miles support the effort, with an active ADT coordinating committee established in each state along the route. This strong grass-roots effort, together with financial support from Backpacker magazine, the Trails Illustrated Division of National Geographic, the Coleman Company, Ecco, and others, have helped take the ADT from dream to reality.

YET, there's another step that has to be taken before the plan is realized: Congress must authorize the trail as part of the National Trails System. This legislation, which has the support of senators from both parties, completes the job. It would be fitting to establish the ADT during the 105th Congress to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968.

Under my bill, existing uses will remain largely unchanged, and no additional lands or interests will be acquired by the federal government. Administration of the ADT would be from the bottom up, with local public involvement and local and state governments supporting the trail. Federal agencies will only provide technical assistance. There will be little or no cost to the taxpayer because volunteers and nonprofit groups will be heavily involved.

The Department of the Interior and other federal agencies will be required to cooperate with a competent nonprofit organization in the administration of the ADT. The project will take three years to complete.

While I believe in a limited federal government, there are still things that can be done to enhance outdoor recreation, particularly on federal land. By connecting existing trails and creating the first coast-to-coast trail, we can raise the visibility of many healthy, leisure-time pursuits. We have to conserve our natural bounty while exposing more people to our natural and cultural splendors. The ADT is a good way to accomplish both goals.

* Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R) of Alaska is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

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