The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is considering a proposal that would create a comprehensive, motorless hiking trail that spans 1,200-mile from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean.
The plan would build on the existing Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, which begins in Montana’s Glacier National Park, crosses through northern Idaho, and ends in Olympic National Park. And the USFS says that if it works out, it should be completed by late 2023.
The trail was initially proposed in the 1970s. And Congress made it the 11th trail in the National Trails System in 2009. Today, around a third of it runs through roads and into remote areas that are overgrown with no footpath. But a document that the Forest Service will soon give to state, federal and tribal land managers will hash out a way to make it motorless, passable, and more encompassing.
“I love what it could be,” Jeff Kish, executive director for the Pacific Northwest Trail Association said. “The bones are there, but we still have to flesh it out.”
Kish walked the trail himself in 2014. And he said that he’d like it to be more of a draw to adventurers. According to him, fewer than 1,000 people have ever completed the hike. Around 75 attempt it annually, but not all are capable of traversing the rugged terrain, and they drop out before reaching the finish line.
If the proposal is approved, he believes more hikers would flock to the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.
U.S. Forest Service Taking Comments on Massive Hiking Trail Project
The Forest Service is taking public comments through Oct. 30. After, it will use those comments to draft a comprehensive plan and environmental assessment that it will hopefully release next summer. The department wants to sign a final decision by Dec. 2023.
As it stands, only 576 miles of the trail are owned by the USFS. The rest includes 237 miles of private land, 217 miles of National Park land, and 89 miles of state land. The private land poses a major problem for the service because future owners have the right to close off public access.
The USFS would also need to convert 438 miles of roadway trails into motorless paths to meet its goals. And it would need to clear a seven-mile gap that hikers currently have to bushwhack.
In the initial document, the service claims that it will eventually “maximize the outdoor recreation potential of the Pacific Northwest Trail by providing premier settings and a nationally significant opportunity for long-distance hiking that complement or enhance opportunities for other compatible trail uses, particularly pack and saddle stock use and bicycling, where appropriate.”