Protect the Pacific Crest Trail and our public lands

We at The Mountaineers have noticed that the Pacific Crest Trail is receiving more attention this year – a lot more attention. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote recently, the movie and book “Wild” have led dozens of people to embark on through-hikes every day.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a favorite for many Washingtonians, including member of The Mountaineers. While we love hiking simply because it’s a great way to spend time outdoors, we also know hiking promotes good health, connects people with nature and supports the outdoor recreation economy – a growing industry in America that is larger even than the oil and gas or construction industries, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Protecting public lands is crucial to protecting all of these values. And the PCT is made up primarily of public lands. But contrary to popular belief, it’s not entirely public, and it’s not always easy to access.

As readers of “Wild” know, there are many parts of the PCT that cross private land, or where the trail cuts very close to private developments. One of the tools trail advocates have to help ensure the trail stays connected and that everyone has access to it is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For example, The Mountaineers has proposed using LWCF to help purchase 77 acres near the PCT at Snoqualmie Pass, which will allow the trail to be rerouted around the ski area instead of through it.

LWCF is a 50-year-old program that reinvests a small portion of offshore oil and gas royalties into onshore land and water conservation projects. It has been protecting parts of the PCT for decades, but that support will dry up if Congress fails to reauthorize the act when it expires this September.

We need Congress to reauthorize the act indefinitely in its current form, and provide dedicated funding to ensure that the thousands of Americans seeking to experience the trail will not be disappointed. Our economy and our future depend on it.

In addition, our public lands champions in Congress can do one more thing to protect the trail: defend the Antiquities Act. The PCT goes through four national monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, and a recent monument designated by President Obama in California, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The Antiquities Act is another crucial tool for protecting the trail and ensuring public access to it.

I’m thankful to have public lands champions like Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray – fearless leaders who are not afraid to stand up for our economy, our outdoors and our futures.

Katherine Hollis is conservation and recreation manager at The Mountaineers in Seattle.