If you have ever walked, hiked, or biked on a trail, at some point on your journey, you may have asked yourself- who built this bridge, or installed that bench, or who mows the grass…?
How many miles of trails are there in the U.S? And how are they maintained?
Both are great questions, and both are challenging to answer.
The answer to the first question, how many miles of trail, is difficult to determine. We often know the total length of trails within a single park or long-distance system, but calculating one final tally for trails across all public and private land is a proverbial needle in the haystack. It’s like asking – How long is a piece of string? Your best guess, widely exaggerated, then doubled.
The U.S. National Park Service claims 22,000 miles within its parks. The National Forest Service estimates over 158,000 miles across its system. National Scenic Trails (i.e., Appalachian Trail) and Historic Trails (i.e., Oregon Trail) account for over 55,000 miles. Then add in all the trails in all state, county and municipal parks, as well as urban walking and biking trails, and the number is, well, let’s just say it’s a lot. So many trails.
As for the second question, how are trails maintained and by whom? Large parks have professional trail staff. Larger trail systems, such as the Appalachian Trail, have well-organized non-profit groups that work with volunteers from all regions of the trail. Maintenance on a city bike network may fall to the municipal road crew. These are great resources and one solution to the ongoing need to maintain and improve trails, but only a small percentage of trail miles benefit from an organized and funded effort.
The vast majority of trails are cared for by trail users. That is to say, WE all have a role in maintaining trails for the enjoyment of everyone. Many small parks or regional trail networks are taken care of by locals. Sometimes by organized groups, but more often by the individual efforts of trail enthusiasts.
Volunteering is a great way to give back. Especially if you enjoy trails, giving back a few hours of your time can go a long way in keeping your local trails in great shape.
Each year, the LHT organizes a group of trail volunteers to regularly monitor the trail and provide basic maintenance. This is an invaluable service that benefits the trail, landowners, and other users. If you wish to get involved, please let us know. You can walk or ride the trail while also helping out!
Contact the LHT (email@example.com) for more information.