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Closing the Gaps in Our National Scenic Trails: An Interview With Jim Kern

“The cause that I am focused on for whatever years I have remaining is to see that Congress do for the other National Scenic Trails what it has done for the Appalachian Trail.”

Our nation is full of a mess of long trails that convey countless opportunities to each backpackers and day hikers alike. Eleven of these trails have been designated National Scenic Trails, and serve as leisure havens for “those who want to explore America’s natural landscape.” With the Appalachian Trail being the first, and probably greatest recognized, it’s no marvel that our federal authorities helped tremendously to make sure a protected hall straight from Georgia to Maine. This path is nearly seamless and has been preserved for future generations to take pleasure in the path as it’s at present.

Nevertheless, many don’t understand that the Appalachian Path is a special case. The 10 other National Scenic Trails haven’t acquired the similar remedy or recognition as their older sibling, leaving four,000 miles of gaps all through our trail system.

Jim Kern is on a mission to convey mild to this challenge. As one in every of our nation’s largest activists for trails, he has devoted his life to preserving and advocating for trails throughout America. He is the founding father of the Florida Trail Association (1966), Co-Founding father of the American Climbing Society (1976), Founding Writer of American Hiker Journal, and an completed wildlife photographer.

I chatted with Jim about his historical past working for our nation’s trails, and the work that also needs to be accomplished to make sure the protection of US National Scenic Trails for generations to return.

Responses have been edited for size/clarity

The Trek: How did you first turn out to be interested in the outside?

Jim: I first obtained in nature once I was dwelling in northeastern New Jersey in a small city near the George Washington Bridge. Our town had a patch of woods not very massive, however to me at the moment, once I was in 6th grade, I assumed it was substantial sufficient to virtually get lost in. Someday once I was out climbing, I noticed an unusual fowl and it actually was a serious expertise in my life. The varsity principal was interested in birds and I assumed I might perhaps get some brownie factors if I went to her and asked about it. She obtained out this huge e-book and we came upon that it was a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. That have lead me into birding and that lead into scouting and I began to get benefit badges and it simply took off from there.

Jim Kern and associates taking a break at Charlie’s Bunion on the Appalachian Path. Picture by way of

T: Are you able to tell me about the founding of the Florida Trail?

J: In 1956, my spouse and our son met my mother and father and my brother for a family vacation in Nantahala Village in North Carolina. Issues very quickly received kinda sluggish so I instructed to my brother that we take a hike and I stated why don’t we hike on the Appalachian Path. I don’t know where that idea came from but we have been completely unprepared. That was the beginning of mountaineering for me in July 1961. We went to the ranger’s office to get a permit to hike from Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome They gave me a bit map that was about 6×8 inches…. you possibly can just think about the element on that.

The hike ended up being a nightmare… we took wool blankets off the beds, put some canned food in a bandolier, slung them over our shoulders, and set out. We clearly weren’t going to make it to the next lean-to earlier than it received dark. We had no flashlights and it was beginning to rain. So we had to lie down on the ground with no tarp, no tent. It was really a nightmare, but after that occasion I began wondering if we had an extended path again residence in Florida. It turned out that we didn’t, so I made a decision that I might find the routing for an extended trail by way of the undeveloped portions of the state. I walked 120 miles up via the state of Florida and received the Miami Herald to do a Sunday complement story about the hike. With that, the Florida Path was off and operating with 70 members in the fall of 1966. We grew from there, and about 5 years later we might afford an employee. Not too long after that we purchased a bit of land for an workplace in Gainesville. We presently have slightly below 5,000 members of the Florida Trail Affiliation they usually assist keep and look after the trail.

T: What is the position and function of the Florida Path?

J: The state and Federal Authorities weren’t involved in the starting—it was a personal sector factor for fairly a couple of years. In 1968 congress handed the National Trails System Act, which had two main functions: 1.The Appalachian Trail was underneath numerous strain to remain steady due to improvement alongside the route and fixed rerouting, and a couple of. to offer a approach that other long trails might grow to be designated as a National Scenic Path.

From left to right, AHS co-founders Bill Kemsley, Jim Kern, and Paul Pritchard meeting to type the first nationwide voice for hikers in 1976. Picture by way of

Congress backed the concept of the magnificent Appalachian Path by passing this bill. When Johnson signed it into regulation, the U.S. Parks Department was approved to purchase the remaining one third of the AT. Two thirds of it have been on public lands, a 3rd of it—about 700 miles—was not. We had personal property house owners that had granted easements to let the AT come via and the relocations have been turning into an enormous burden, so congress acted and over the subsequent 30 years the Parks Division acquired the rest of the land in what was the largest acquisition in history for Park Service. They acquired 2,500 totally different partials and now the Appalachian Trail is steady from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

This leads to the factor that preoccupies me as we speak, Congress didn’t properly fund the other 10 trails and didn’t properly give them the taking Authority of the Structure, and so all 10 are incomplete. All 10 have gaps. My Florida Path is a type of and out of a 1,300-mile path, we’ve about 300 miles unfinished. That signifies that the hiker gets out on paved street and walks a total of 300 miles in order to get from the Massive Cypress National Protect to Gulf Islands National Seashore. 1,000 miles of the path have been constructed by volunteers, but 300 miles are gaps. The cause that I am targeted on for whatever years I’ve remaining is to see that Congress do for the other National Scenic Trails what it has achieved for the Appalachian Path.

T: 300 miles is a big gap, and that might be awesome if we might get that finished.

J: It is, but the other 10 have issues a minimum of as nice. With 300 out of 1,300 miles, we will say that the Florida Path is 73% full. Congress acted on the Appalachian Path when it was solely 66% accomplished. Once I say accomplished, I don’t mean that there wasn’t a treadway for the hiker to go on, I mean safe for posterity. Even on the Pacific Crest Path the place you’ll be able to hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, 10% of that path is incomplete and not safe to posterity.

The primary work crew on the Florida Path, October 29, 1966. Image by way of

T: Have you learnt an estimate of how many miles are incomplete and never safe all through all the National Scenic Trails?

J: When you add up all the miles of all the trails (not including the Appalachian Path since that is protected), we recover from 16,000 miles. Of these 16,000 miles of National Scenic Trails, we are missing 25% – about 4,000 miles.

T: What are the current roadblocks preventing the completion of the National Scenic Trails? How can the climbing group assist bridge these gaps?

J: There’s the concept throughout a lot of trail leadership that we will complete these trails via private and non-private partnerships alone. I don’t see how that’s attainable—and I don’t assume that Congress believes it’s attainable either, in any other case in 1968 Congress wouldn’t have given the Appalachian Path the things that trails need. A type of issues is enough cash to buy the proper of method. For every highway, fuel line, energy line, and so on, the authorities should provide you with the money wanted to buy the land. Then they revert to the US Constitution which provides them the power of eminent area.

Eminent area isn’t a well-liked phrase, especially if your land has been taken towards your will. Even when it’s for a 600-foot large interstate, you might have had a farm there. And then the authorities came alongside and took the heart proper out of your 5 hundred acres. So that is one thing that the founders had to cope with, and we use incessantly. It goes on all the time—virtually every time you see a new street going up. This stuff are happening round us all the time and sometimes occasions the individual might grumble, however when she or he will get the examine they usually take it to the bank, it helps heal the wound. And when you don’t like the quantity you’re free to take the government to courtroom, and the sums are reviewed by a jury. The government’s making an attempt to purchase your land for the greatest worth they will, however it’s a must to be glad, or you will have the proper to a courtroom listening to. Your friends and the courtroom assist determine what’s a good amount.

When the Appalachian Trail was acquired, there were 2,550 separate takings by eminent domain from Georgia to Maine—the largest taking course of in the historical past of the Park Service. It took 30 years to do this. The Park Service spent 200 million dollars shopping for this land—which will look like an enormous sum, but states spends tons of of tens of millions on highways every year. You must put all the things into perspective.

In the completing of the Appalachian Path, eminent domain was used 400 occasions out of two,550 takings. Of the 400 occasions eminent domain was used, they have been adversarial 100 occasions which is to say that the proprietor was indignant, went to courtroom, or objected to the taking. Three million individuals set foot on the Appalachian Trail final yr, so you must take a look at the public good. The structure says that you could’t take the land for private functions—it needs to be for public good. Three million individuals use the Appalachian Path in a way or another yearly, and 100 individuals have fought the taking.

That in a nutshell is what I feel is the bugaboo from my climbing pals. Leadership in much of the clubs assume they’re going to finish their trail without eminent domain, in spite of the reality that each lengthy, skinny corridor absolutely should use it. My good pals assume that they will full their trails with out it, and I feel historical past speaks loudly and that we should always pay attention to the historical past of the Appalachian Trail.

Tom Montoya (L) and Jim Kern (R) at a shelter built in Gold Head Branch State Park. Image by way of

T: Has eminent area been used steadily for mountaineering trails aside from the AT?

J: That is referenced in an article about the founding of Nice Smoky Mountains National Park. GSMNP is the most visited nationwide park in the country, however about 1,100 families have been asked to go away these hollows and move on because we needed a nationwide park there.

It’s a bit totally different on a mountaineering trail as a result of climbing trails don’t actually need to undergo anybody’s home. They need to be up and on the ridge. The lawyer that represented the Forest Service and did about 1/four of the acquisitions for the Appalachian Path, advised me that to his information no one was requested to go away their house once we acquired the right-of-way for the Appalachian Path. We need to put the path in the most distant corners that we will find.

T: When the problem of our incomplete National Scenic Trails has been brought in entrance of politicians, have they been receptive to these concepts?

J: Politicians need this situation to go away. They have nothing to realize by getting a half a dozen nasty letters about how “this trail wants to come through my property and I want you to stop them”. It’s like the third rail – such as you’re going to get electrocuted when you contact it.

T: If politicians are primarily against this problem, what would you recommend hikers do?

J: Please go to and signal the petition. Politicians learn their mail they usually react to voters. If a guy from his district writes a nasty letter that says “get those hikers out of my backyard”, he’s going to learn that letter. But if he gets 10 letters from hikers that say “the Florida Trail is a great recreational asset for the state of Florida, please support it,” let me inform you he’s going to pay attention. It’s all about the votes—it’s not even about cash. They’ve spent the cash to get elected, if they need to maintain their job they should please their voters.

Jim Kern - AHS

Founders of AHS L-R: Jim Kern, Paul Pritchard, and Invoice Kemsley. Picture by way of

T: For individuals in their local path club or closest National Scenic Path organization—and turning into an activist for these wild areas—do you’ve options for getting involved?

J: Sure in fact. We’ve got chapters for the Florida Trail, and I might assume that many different National Scenic Trails would have one thing comparable. A good way to start out is to go to the website, discover out which chapter serves your locale, and go to a meeting. One other factor you are able to do is locate out when conferences are annually. There might be enterprise meetings, outings, or scheduled actions. For me personally if a person likes to go climbing on a footpath, there’s a very good probability I’m going to love them. So yow will discover camaraderie via these chapters, and that’s true for all 11 National Scenic trails and the other hundred or so mountaineering clubs around the country.

In case you are interested in connecting with Jim, turning into concerned together with his organizations, or buying a photograph ebook, he could be reached by way of e-mail at [email protected] or on-line at