Why Trail Conservation Matters

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Our country's wonderful trail system didn't materialize out of thin air. Rather, many of our trails exist thanks to the hard work of enlightened public officials, Great Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corp recruits, and non-profit trail and conservation groups with countless dedicated members.

In this age of tight federal and state budgets, trail construction, maintenance and advocacy is increasingly happening (and in many cases only happening) through these organizations and their selfless volunteers. If you hike, trail run, mountain bike, horseback ride, ski or snowshoe on a public trail—you have an obligation to also help protect, maintain and advocate for our trails.

I learned the importance of trail advocacy at an early age while growing up in New Hampshire, home to one of the best trail systems in the nation, thanks to the collective efforts of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), among others.

These groups welcomed me and my youthful energy. As a young college student in 1982, I scraped some money together and joined SPNHF. I have been a member ever since—even though I left NH in 1989. But I return frequently to my home state's trails and I love seeing what my money and the money of so many other trails and natural places loving folks can do.

Washington State is now my home. I joined The Mountaineers upon moving here in part for their advocacy protecting Washington's trails and wild places. I have been a proud member of the Washington Trails Association (WTA) for two decades; and if ever there was a group that tirelessly advocated for, maintained, and expanded our trail system, this is the one.

To wit: with its growing and diverse membership, WTA contributed more than 120,000 volunteer hours on 205 trails in 2014 alone. This effort helps maintain a popular trail network that has long been neglected by state and federal legislators and the public agencies charged with managing the land.

Without WTA and so many other dedicated trail and conservation groups, Washington's trail system would be in dire shape, with countless trails unmaintained, overgrown, dangerous to travel, and in danger of disappearing forever. Instead, the trails here are accessible and enticing, just what the state's growing population needs.

The WTA is integral to the quality of life and also to the state's economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in Washington state alone generated $22.5 billion in consumer spending generating 227,000 jobs, $7.1 billion in wages and salaries and $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2014.

I am proud to be an Ambassador for a company that supports our trails as well. In addition to the conservation ethics that Oboz supports, they are also proud supporters of our trails. For the past several years Oboz has donated shoes to my annual Hike-A-Thon campaigns for the WTA. I give these shoes as random prizes to people who make donations to my campaign. Last year my Hike-a-Thon team raised over $12,000 for trails.

So here's a big thanks to Oboz for helping me protect, advocate, and maintain the trail system I love. I hope I can count on you too. Join a trail advocacy group, lend a hand to a volunteer work party, and make a donation. The payback is priceless!

Craig Romano is an award-winning author of more than a dozen hiking books on Washington State. Visit him at CraigRomano.com and on Facebook at "Craig Romano Guidebook Author."

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