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Lands Bill Authorizes Study of Additional Historic Trail Routes

Oregon National Historic Trail

National Park News

Over the next several years, the National Park Service (NPS) will study thousands of miles of historic overland trails to determine whether they should be added to the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express National Historic Trails.

The study, which lists 64 individual trail segments for study in more than a dozen states from the Mississippi River to the Pacific, is authorized under the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (Public Law 111-11) signed by President Obama on March 30. In addition to those specific trail segments, NPS is directed to identify and evaluate other trail routes that may be historically linked to the four existing national trails. Work will begin when funding is in place, probably within the next year.

Responsible for conducting the feasibility study is the National Trails Intermountain Region program office of NPS, with offices in Santa Fe and Salt Lake City. The trails office administers the four overland trails, as well as five other national historic trails and the historic Route 66 highway.

“Evaluating these routes for possible inclusion in the National Trails System is an important step forward in recognizing the complexity and diversity of the great 19th-century emigrant experience in the American West,” said Aaron Mahr, superintendent of National Trails Intermountain Region. “Forgotten stories of heroic struggle, emigrant determination, ethnic contact, and the like will all be rediscovered in the course of this work.”

Authorization of the study does not automatically mean that the study routes will be found eligible or, ultimately, approved for inclusion in the National Trails System. The National Park Service is charged with determining whether the study segments meet national historic trails requirements, and with examining the possible economic, environmental and social effects of adding those routes to the system.  Congress, in turn, will use the completed study to decide whether to add all, some or none of the study routes to the existing historic trails. The entire study and decision-making process, which includes extensive consultation with the general public and coordination with other federal agencies, Indian tribes, and state and local governments in as many as 14 states, could take more than four years.

“The Park Service will work closely with communities along the trails to evaluate these routes for possible inclusion in the trail system,” said Mahr. “The National Trails System is a great example of communities partnering with the federal government to protect and make available place of great value to our collective, shared histories. That partnership will greatly help evaluate these new routes.”

Historic trails advocates and interest groups have eagerly awaited Congressional authorization of this study for some 10 years. Some observers, though, worry about possible impacts that designation might have on private property rights. Designation of national historic trails does not transfer land title to the federal government or otherwise affect landowners’ rights, however. Landowners on a national historic trail are not required to allow public access to their property, to participate in or be associated with the trail, or to be liable for any persons injured while using the trail on their property, and their land use is not controlled by the federal government.

The Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express National Historic Trails are part of a network of 30 historic and scenic trails, which make up the National Trails System. The Oregon National Historic Trail begins at Independence, Mo., and ends at Oregon City, Ore. The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail begins at Nauvoo, Ill., and ends at Salt Lake City, Utah. The Pony Express National Historic Trail begins at St. Joseph, Mo., and ends in San Francisco. The California National Historic Trail begins in five locations – Independence, Amazonia and St. Joseph, Mo., and Omaha and Nebraska City, Neb., and ends at multiple locations in California and Oregon.

 

-NPS-

EDITORS: Study routes named in the bill are located in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, California and Arizona.



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