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for people who care about the West

Distributing trail use


The trail numbers seem off in your story “Trail Blazing” (HCN, 6/26/17). The American Hiking Society’s 2015 report listed 103,000 miles of trails in 1965 on federal and state land, and 236,000 miles in 2015, not 326,000. (Editor’s note: Craig is correct; we’ve updated our story.) The lack of numbers in between those two years leaves me wondering how much of that trail growth is recent. The greatest number of overnight stays in the Yosemite backcountry was in the mid-1970s; numbers today still haven’t reached that plateau. Elsewhere in the Sierra, many backcountry trails that were present in 1965 are now gone or in the process of going: In Kings Canyon, the Baxter Pass Trail, Sawmill Pass Trail and Kennedy Pass trail are now unmaintained while the Gardiner Basin trail, Cartridge Pass Trail and the old Muir Trail over Junction Pass no longer appear on park maps.

So I’d argue that this article is actually identifying a somewhat different trend: the growth of charismatic and amenity-oriented trails at the expense of less desirable trails. Wilderness rangers along the Muir Trail all mention how heavy the use is on that trail and how empty things are on what were once mainstream trails. This risks a feedback loop, where even more secondary-trail mileage is dropped to focus on serving the multitudes on the Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. For the health of wilderness, finding a way of better distributing that usage would be wise.

Craig Jones
Boulder, Colorado