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A trail across American.

FROM PROTECTED beaches and ocean cliffs to presidents' homes and monuments in the nation's capital, the United States enjoys a variety of naturally and culturally significant areas. In an attempt to weave many of our nation's significant resources and symbols together, a team sponsored by the American Hiking Society and Back-packer magazine embarked on a year-long journey from Point Reyes National Seashore, California, in June 1990 to determine a transcontinental route.

The team's goal was to tie existing trails into one continuous ribbon and, through this national trail, invite Americans to explore their diverse heritage, a goal outlined in the National Trails System Act of 1968. To accomplish this, the scouting team hiked and biked from California through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware to plot the American Discovery Trail (ADT).

Winding eastward from Point Reyes to Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, the ADT--currently being studied for designation as a national scenic trail--is designed to accomplish several long-term objectives. It includes sections of long-distance national trails such as Pacific Crest, Santa Fe, and North Country as well as many shorter local and regional trails. The ADT also includes several large metropolitan areas, such as Washington, D.C., to provide a greater variety of trail experiences.

The continued support of local trail groups is essential. Each of the 13 states through which the ADT passes provided a group of advocates to work with the team to determine the route, and each has an active committee to administer the trail. This grassroots approach reflects the spirit and effort of those who build and maintain the segments of what ADT supporters hope will become an American legacy.

Point Reyes

The ADT team began its journey at one of the most unusual national seashores in the Park System: Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, offers visitors a chance to step into another world. The peninsula is the only piece of land in the Lower 48 that is part of a different tectionic plate. The San Andreas fault separates the two plates that move in slightly different directions and at varying speeds.

While the movement of these plates is imperceptible, the change in landscape and weather once you step over the fault line is not. Point Reyes is said to be one of the few places in which you can experience such a dramatic change. The cliffs that drop off to pockets of beach along the Pacific Ocean are often covered in mist. And although the weather may be warm and sunny as you approach the park, the air quickly becomes moist and the temperature cool as you cross the fault line.

The vegetation and the animal life found here reflect these changes. Point Reyes is well-known for the extensive variety of birds that breed and find shelter on its shores. More than 400 species of birds have been recorded at Point Reyes.

Common murres, black and white seabirds, nest on the rocky shelves, sea lions bask on offshore rocks, and gray whales can be seen from the overlook during winter migration. The site also includes Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is at the end of a 300-step descent. For more information, write to Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes, CA 94956.

Colorado National Monument

From the dramatic California coast, the ADT winds its way through mountains into vast stretches of desert before reaching the awesome colors and contrasts of canyon country. The trail follows dirt roads to Colorado National Monument in the mid-western part of the state, winding its way through the park before heading across the rolling hills of the Colorado Plateau.

Colorado National Monument is older, smaller, and less well-known than its Utah neighbors, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks, both of which are also on the trail. But the 20,500-acre monument, with its red-rock cliff walls, offers visitors an unusual and powerful experience.

The park is small enough so that in one day a visitor can understand the geology and the Native American ancestry as well as appreciate the site's beauty by exploring the visitor center, driving the rim road, or hiking on one of the canyon trails. It is also remote and complex enough that a visitor might choose to spend several days in the backcountry exploring the variety of plant and animal life. The semi-desert land is home to pinyon pines and Utah junipers, ravens and jays, desert bighorns and coyotes, canyon wrens and collared lizards, mountain mahogany and mountain lions.

The park is a tribute both to the land and to the role individuals have played in protecting natural resources. John Otto fell in love with the canyon country and in the early 1900s launched a one-person letter-writing campaign to stimulate interest in the creation of a park. On May 24, 1911, President William H. Taft established the monument, and Otto became its first custodian, a job he performed until 1927.

The park offers many hiking, backcountry, and camping opportunities. One of the shorter routes that visitors can enjoy is called Ottos Trail in honor of the park's champion. The visitor center is near Saddlehorn, four miles from the west entrance, and visitor facilities are open year-round. For more information, write to Colorado National Monument, Fruita, CO 81521.

Jefferson Expansion Memorial

As the trail heads a little farther east, it passes through the "gateway to the west"--the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri. Known to most Americans as "the Arch," the memorial is a testament to the people who founded the country as well as to those who labored to design and build this engineering wonder, one that symbolizes American ingenuity.

The memorial grew out of a plan by Congress, initiated in 1935, for a bistate memorial to honor westward expansion. In 1947, Eero Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect, won a national competition when he conceived of an arch of stainless steel to celebrate "the soaring mind" of Thomas Jefferson.

Completed in 1965, the Arch towers above the Mississippi River. "The Arch is a pure expression of structural forces. No inner frame or skeleton holds it up. Its stability arises naturally out of a few elegantly simple ideas," according to information about the memorial.

The expansion memorial also includes a museum, which offers a comprehensive and interactive interpretation of an important part of American history. The information displayed there carries the visitor back to a time when the plains were filled with buffalo and the nation had yet to embrace westward expansion as a national theme.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial pays tribute not only to Thomas Jefferson, who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with France's Napoleon, thereby doubling the size of the nation, but also to the explorers, traders, and settlers who used St. Louis as a "jumping off place" to the West.

For more information about the Arch and the memorial, write to Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, 11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, MO 63102.

Harpers Ferry NHP

As the ADT continues east, it passes near many sites of importance to colonial America as well as to the Civil War, among them Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia.

Settled during colonial times, the town, dominated by the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Harpers Ferry's history has become a major draw for visitors year-round but especially in October, when tours featuring some of the town's lingering ghosts become most popular. At any time of year, a costumed guide will lead visitors on a tour through the narrow, cobbled streets to point out sites of interest, such as the armory and arsenal where abolitionist John Brown attempted to begin a slave uprising several years before the Civil War began. The armory and arsenal buildings were burned in 1861 to keep them from falling to the Confederates.

Because of the town's railway system and its location at the confluence of the two rivers, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times during the Civil War. The largest military operation against the town occurred before the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, when Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Confederate troops seized the 12,700-man Union garrison. Long after the war, a series of devastating floods left the town in shambles for years, but many of the buildings have been restored to the styles of the early and mid-1800s.

The hillsides and rivers offer hiking opportunities and a variety of flat and white-water canoeing. From late spring to early fall, the area around Harpers Ferry is filled with flea markets, craft shows, and people seeking relief in the refreshing waters.

For more information, write to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, P.O. Box 65, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.

A guide book for the American Discovery Trail will be available within the year. For more information about the trail or for information about how you can help support national designation efforts, contact Reese F. Lukei, Jr., ADT National Coordinator, 1046 Azalea Court, Virginia Beach, VA 23452; 1-800-851-3442.

A National Celebration of America's Trails

To raise awareness about linear parks and the threats they face, the American Hiking Society will celebrate National Trails Day on June 5. Through events hosted by thousands of clubs and organizations, trails day will celebrate a new era of trails development.

Without the commitment of local groups throughout the country, the American Discovery Trail would not have been possible.

Please join NPCA in supporting National Trails Day. If you wish to sponsor or join an event on that day or obtain more information, contact David Lillard, Director, National Trails Day, 1776 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20036, 1-800-972-8608.
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Title Annotation:plan for a transcontinental hiking and biking trail
Author:Seher, Jennifer
Publication:National Parks
Date:May 1, 1993
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