National Trails Day...
Spend the day exploring local trails, or visit an event near you, to enjoy some of the health benefits hiking offers.
Spending time outdoors has many benefits - improving physical health, mental clarity, creativity, and connecting people with nature. Walking a trail while enjoying brisk air, dancing green leaves, brightly colored flowers, and listening to birds singing is something people of all ages can enjoy. Thanks to the National Park Service, local parks, and recreation departments, and other contributors there are thousands of miles of trails across the country.
The Appalachian Trail, for example, is 2,190 miles long and spans from Maine to Georgia. And, a little closer to home, Dalton State College hosts 3 miles of trails in their Roadrunner Trail System, which is open to the community. Some trails are exclusively for walking, while others allow bicycles like the Raising Woods Mountain Bike Park with seven courses to choose from. Besides being outdoor experiences, trail systems have something in common – they need volunteers to help maintain them in great condition.
And that’s where National Trails Day comes in. The first Saturday of June thousands of volunteers lend a hand to improve and maintain trails, and scores of visitors connect with trails as they go on their own personal adventures. National Trails Day is hosted by the American Hiking Society (www.americanhiking.org), an organization that promotes and protects foot trails, their surrounding natural areas, and the hiking experience. They state, “By coordinating a wide array of trail activities on a single day, National Trails Day attracts new trail users and helps connect existing trail enthusiasts with local clubs and organizations with the hopes of creating trail advocates and stewards.”
National Trails Day activities vary by location. Some may offer guided hikes, children’s activities, or trail maintenance and stewardship opportunities for only the most experienced hikers. Participants can expect to pay a park admission fee or parking fee depending on the location, but may or may not have to pay for the additional activities. To find an event near you visit americanhiking.org, click on National Trails Day, then choose Find An Event. Events featured for our area include one at Fort Mountain in Chatsworth which is hosting a kid-friendly event Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. The Emery Creek trail, also in Chatsworth, will be undergoing maintenance which requires that volunteers pre-register.
If you don’t participate at an official event site you can still celebrate National Trails Day by simply enjoying a walk or hike on a local trail. There are plenty of options in our area including the Pinhoti, Disney, Mt. Rachel, and Dug Gap trails. When you visit plan ahead and prepare. Consider the type of terrain, weather conditions, and difficulty of the trail and dress accordingly. Footwear is especially important. For short walks, a lightweight tennis shoe may work, but for longer hikes trail or hiking shoes are recommended.
While you’re there practice the Leave No Trace ethic to reduce the impact you have on the environment. For example, when on a trail with multiple people, walk in single file along narrow footpaths and avoid taking shortcuts. Staying on the marked trails helps limit the amount of damage to the path and the surrounding environment. Be respectful to other visitors and wildlife too by keeping noises and talking low at a nonintrusive level.
Taking water and snacks with you is also a great idea, especially for longer visits. Wrappers, bottles, and biodegradable waste like banana peels, however, should not be left on the trail. Always carry out what you take into an outdoor area whether it’s a park, trail, or campground. Plan ahead by taking a plastic shopping bag folded so it fits in a back pocket, or carry a reusable bag just for waste. While on the trail pick up waste left behind by others to help maintain the area clean, healthy and safe for local wildlife and other visitors.
National Trails Day reminds us that trails and national parks are good for the environment, and for economic growth. According to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, outdoor recreation is responsible for 6.5 million jobs and contributes $730 billion to the national economy (based on a 2006 study). That means that 1 in 20 employed Americans works in some form with the outdoor recreation industry. The American Hiking Society adds, “It is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans use trails every year. While some of these trails might be local, millions of Americans are driving long distances to get to a trailhead. All of these trips require expenditures on gas, food, lodging, and sometimes souvenirs that also boost the local economy.”
(The 2017 numbers for the outdoor recreation economy are 7.1 million jobs and $887 in consumer spending. Here is a link to their new report https://outdoorindustry.org/advocacy/. )