This year marked the 15th annual "Hike The Hill" in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13-15.
Each year, hiking organizations select a group representing a variety of trails who have an opportunity to interact with members of Congress, agency officials and various colleagues from throughout the trails community. The focus on this event is working with Congress, federal agencies and many recreation and conservation partners on policy issues and legislation to ensure funding for trails, the preservation of natural areas, and the protection of the hiking experience. Trail advocates and hiking enthusiasts from across the nation travel to Washington, D.C., to promote and protect our nation's system of trails. During this, hikers and trail advocates share experiences and advice; learn grassroots lobbying skills and strategies; and advocate for increased funding, promotion, and protection of our national system of trails, our natural heritage.
Keith W. Klos, chapter president, and Karen M. Klos, chapter organizer and communications liaison, represented Allegheny National Forest Chapter of the North Country Trail this year. They attended several meetings throughout their visit to Washington, lobbing for trail corridor protection, which was their primary goal, with discussions also for the proposed Arrowhead re-route of the NCT in Minnesota. Cooperation and reasonable drilling is necessary for the North Country National Scenic Trail to maintain its Premier Footpath status.
Keith Klos with USFS and Rep. Thompson on Feb. 15.
Keeping it as close to nature as possible while still remembering our local legacy is a daunting task. Trail corridor protection is essential and crucial, with simplest limited guidelines that would satisfy all parties. Time is not on the trail's side because of the expeditious movement and encroaching elements. Without intelligent, rapid foresight the NCT may become last in line. Trail corridor protection will provide permanent fortification for the trail's inherent future, for many generations to enjoy.
The first scheduled meeting the Kloses attended was with the U.S. Forest Service. In attendance was Faye L. Krueger, associate deputy chief, National Forest System, Office of the Deputy Chief; Greg Smith, Director of Lands and Realty Management, Geology, National Forest System, Lands Staff; and Don English, Visitor Use Monitoring Program Manager, National Forest System, Recreation & Heritage Resources, Budget, Education & Strategic Planning. The meeting was held at the historical Sidney R. Yates Federal Building.
The atmosphere was very cordial and relaxed.. After the introductions and a brief statement was made by Keith Klos, pictures were discussed, along with the charts and graphics. Considerations also reviewed the Mining Act of 1872, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 and Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. The 1911 Weeks Law is very strong, and the drillers are relying on that. The Appalachian Trail was given in comparison of the lack of NCT protection, noting the Act of April 28, 1978, and Act 24 June 2008. Various lawsuits were discussed in detail and how they will impact the trail. Many of the drillers were already known by the Washington staff. Some names were mentioned before Keith Klos had a chance to explain concerns. Faye Krueger went on to explain the suggested report of recommendations "suggested course of action" point by point. Greg Smith also added to the discussion. Faye did express the fact that Keith Klos had a good comprehension of the ANF and the problems facing the trail. Most of the report recommendations will need congressional action. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP) issues the permits to drill. The ANF Chapter will attempt to get an appointment with the head of the PaDEP and request that all permits take the NCT into consideration. The ANF Chapter is not asking the drillers not to drill, just not on the trail. If this designation was enforced, the NCT in the ANF will still be a "premier section." At the conclusion of the meeting, the impression was given that further court action will be soon to come in defense of the ANF. North Country Trail Bandanas and NCNST patches and pins were distributed to each of the attending at the closing of the meeting, along with pictures taken.
The second scheduled meeting they attended was with Glenn Thompson, U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District; John S. Busovsky, senior legislative assistant; and Dr. Jesse T. Richman, Legislative Fellow, Chief Departmental Advisor, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University.
The meeting was friendly and comfortable. After introductions, a brief statement was given by Keith Klos, explaining the reasons for initiating the meeting (National Scenic Trail Protection and the Arrowhead Re-route in Minnesota). The North Country National Scenic Trail is the longest of the national scenic trails in the trails system, 4,600 miles. The eastern terminus is Crown Point, N.Y., and the western end is the Missouri River in North Dakota. It goes through seven states and 10 national forests. Here at home, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) traverses the whole length of the Allegheny National Forest, 97 miles, entering Pennsylvania north of Bradford and exiting the ANF south of Marienville. There is no corridor protection for this trail even though it is a National Scenic Trail. In the National Trail Act of 1968, many places they mention protection and protection plan. In the Allegheny National Forest Final Environmental Impact Statement of 2007, it is stated that the North Country Trail is an area with special (national) designation and continues to be protected. This section of the NCT is considered a premier section and carries the "gold standard" from the National Parks Service. Other national scenic trails enjoy the protection of the federal government, the AT, Florida Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and so on.
The NCT through the ANF is constantly being re-routed or ignored by the oil and gas drilling companies. This is not protection of a national scenic resource. The ANF Chapter respects the property of the drilling companies but ask them to respect the trail. The ANF Chapter is willing to compromise. However in some cases, the ANF Chapter has nowhere to put the trail other than where it is. Several drilling companies have become friends of the trail through their consideration of maintaining this corridor. One company stands out by restoring a portion of the trail and included an upgrade. They even went beyond that and built steps in another location and put a cyclone fence around one of their wells right on the trail. They did this in four days of work. It would have taken several weeks for a trail crew. This company is Minard Run Oil Company of Bradford. Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) also has a written agreement in maintaining a corridor. By the actions of these companies, a standard has been set that we hope others will follow. Unfortunately, these are exceptions to the rule.
Also discussed was the changing of the corridor proposed by the National Parks Service in Minnesota. This will take an act of Congress. The corridor presently goes west from Duluth, Minn., in a west, northwest direction. The route will involve many stream crossings and wet areas and is about 100 miles long. The NCTA is asking for a variance to move the trail along the shores of Lake Superior and then down near the Boundary Waters. Considering this is a scenic trail, what more could you ask for, and most of the trail is in place using existing trails. This is about 400 miles long. The local trail clubs are in full agreement with this re-route. A request was made to Thompson to endorse the bill when it comes up in the house. It is unknown who will initiate or sponsor it or even when. North Country Trail Bandana's, NCNST patches, NCNST pins were distributed to each of the attending, and pictures were taken.
Karen M. Klos is communications liaison and chapter organizer for the North Country Trail on the ANF. She can be reached at 484-7420 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.