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Friday, March 20, 2009

Hike the Hill 2009 Advocated for the Big Three

Hike the Hill Advocacy week participants
Hike the Hill attendees 2008 (photo from the American Hiking Society)
from the North Country Trail Association and the American Hiking Society

Each year in February the American Hiking Society hosts a week in Washington, DC called "Hike the Hill." This year the Partnership for the National Trails System co-hosted the Trails Advocacy Week.

Trail advocates from the four corners of the country meet to pool their experiences, learn strategies for lobbying and then to advocate with legislators for increased funding, promotion and protection of trails.

Specific issues that were important to the North Country Trail delegation this year include the Arrowhead Reroute, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and Willing Seller. These are all topics that just don't seem to go away, but we keep pressing for action.

The priority for NCTA's advocacy has for some time been focused on obtaining the Congressional approval required for the North Country Trail re-route in northeastern Minnesota. The re-route proposes to substitute the original 80 miles of bog walk from Remer to Jay Cook State Park with 500 miles of premier hiking and backpacking through the Boundary Waters and along the north shore of Lake Superior, using the existing Border Route, Kekekabic and Superior Hiking Trails. Congressman Oberstar has reintroduced his bill to re-route the NCNST in his district as HR 481. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced the Senate companion bill as S.553. Critical right now is obtaining as many co-sponsors for these bills as possible. Without this demonstration of broader interest these bills will stagnate in committee. As of this date there are no co-sponsors. Please contact your legislators!

The NCNST is one of only 9 trails in the National Trails System lacking the authority for its managing agency (National Park Service in NCNST's case) to purchase private lands from willing sellers. Legislation to correct this was introduced in both House and Senate in this 111th Congress. It passed the Senate, but was defeated (as reported earlier) in the House under a suspension of the rules. It may yet be brought to a vote in the House a second time

Since 1965 the Land and Water Conservation Fund has enabled federal and state governments to acquire lands for recreation and conserve critical habitats and wild areas. Funding comes from offshore oil and gas leases. The LWCF has had a huge impact on conservation and recreation in the U.S. But it is not reaching its potential, either for the North Country Trail or in general. Current law only permits the National Park Service to use LWCF funds, channeled through the state, in Wisconsin, to acquire ownership or easement of lands for the North Country Trail. We've asked Congress to include language in the Department of the Interior appropriations that expands this authority to all 7 of the NCNST's states. And we've asked for an allocation of $2 million for that purpose.

Of course, an increase in general funding for the trail is always an issue. In these days of millions here and there for all kinds of projects, this 4600 mile national trail continues to limp along with under $750,000 a year in federal funding.

See American Hiking Society Hike the Hill 2009
See Willing Seller Fact Sheet
See LWCF Fact Sheet
See Arrowhead Reroute Info

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