It is just spring in the Upper Midwest — when one day it is 70 degrees and on the next a cold north wind blows snow across the land. In just spring is when the first blooms – the tiny Pasque flowers – poke their cheerful heads into the sun and warming air on the rocky “goat prairie” ridges of Wisconsin. Aldo Leopold wrote of the Pasque flowers in A Sand County Almanac, “They endure snows, sleets, and bitter winds for the privilege of blooming alone.”
They are the first of the great re-awakening, returning, and unfolding that is spring – the weeks-long cascade of exuberant bud-popping, flowering, leaf unfolding, rising chorus of twitters, tentative cheeps, and throaty voices carried on migratory wings, and the raucous crescendo of frog and toad down in the hollows where the snow melt collects. This magnificent exuberance of life is a dramatic reminder of why we and untold millions follow the national scenic and historic trails to favorite places and new adventures again and again. Spring’s unfolding provides an equally dramatic reminder that, while the scenic and historic trails begin with the necessary way-providing tread or route defining ruts, swales, journals, and maps, it is the Pasque flowers and all their assorted brethren, the multi-tonal chorus of frog and birdsong, the gnarled and wrinkled growth of centuries old bur oaks, and the vast sweep of land seen from the Pasque flower ridge that we come to experience.
While national scenic and historic trails are located on the ground and on maps by the lines of their treads, ruts, and swales, their transcendent charm and value lies in the land surrounding them and in all the historic artifacts, plants, and animals residing there or traveling along them. That charm and value in turn provides the authentic quality of the experience for those who follow the trails. To do them full justice it is essential that we consistently define and describe our trails not by their tread, ruts and swales, or routes alone, but as corridors – greenways, and in some cases, waterways — across the landscapes of America. These pathways link together special places and communities that provide people with exceptionally authentic experiences of our natural, cultural, and historic heritage.
It is this deeper understanding of the national scenic and historic trails as special resource corridors that should be given special management care that trail organization leaders expressed in meetings with Federal agency leaders during Trails Advocacy Week in February. We discussed defining and managing these trails as special resource corridors with Chief Tom Tidwell of the Forest Service, Deputy Bureau of Land Management Director Mike Poole, and (in a later meeting) with Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. Each of them acknowledged the value that national scenic and historic trail corridors could provide in helping to fulfill major management goals of their agencies, such as protecting watersheds, restoring ecosystems, controlling the spread of invasive species, and to extending the values of parks beyond their boundaries.
We have begun an extremely necessary discussion about the roles our trails will play in large scale stewardship of our national lands and waters in an era of unprecedented climate change with the managers of those lands. Like the first blooms of spring, this emerging concept of the scenic and historic trails will blossom and the discussion will deepen as the “Decade for the National Trails” advances. With your help we can firmly entrench the scenic and historic trails in the Obama Administration’s new America’s Great Outdoors initiative. Be prepared to add your voice to the chorus along with that of the loon, spring peeper, and sandhill crane – and do enjoy the Pasque flowers and other blooms of spring along the way.
Gary Werner, Executive Director, PNTS