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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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S. 580 - Parks and Trails Bills




STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 580, TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM ACT TO REQUIRE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO UPDATE THE FEASIBILITY AND SUITABILITY STUDIES OF FOUR NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILS

April 26, 2007

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 580, a bill to amend the National Trails System Act to update the feasibility and suitability studies of the Oregon, Pony Express, California, and Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trails (NHTs). 

The Department supports S. 580, which is similar to legislation the Department supported during the 108th Congress.  While the Department supports the authorization of these studies, we also believe that any funding requested should be directed first toward completing previously authorized studies.

S. 580 would update the feasibility and suitability studies and make recommendations through the examination of additional routes and cutoffs not included in the initial studies of all four trails. The Secretary of the Interior would determine if any of these routes and cutoffs are eligible as additions to the four NHTs at the completion of these studies and report back to the Congress on those deemed appropriate for addition to the trails. 

The feasibility study for the Oregon NHT was completed in 1977, the study for the Mormon Pioneer NHT in 1978, and the one for the California and Pony Express NHTs in 1987.  Since those studies have been completed, additional routes and cutoffs were identified that may qualify as segments of these trails.  The National Trails System Act does not provide the authority to evaluate and add additional routes and cutoffs without certain legislative amendments. 

The Oregon NHT, authorized in 1978, commemorates the "primary route" used by emigrants beginning in 1841 between Independence, Missouri and Oregon City, Oregon.  Traveled by thousands, the trail contained routes and cutoffs used through the years.  These secondary routes had substantial emigrant traffic over several decades that demonstrate historical significance and may be worthy of examination in an updated study.

The authorization of the Mormon NHT in 1978 commemorates the journey of the pioneer party in 1846-1847 from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah.  As with the Oregon NHT, emigrant traffic occurred on many additional routes during the Mormon migration westward.  As with the other trails, these routes frequently coincide with one another.  Preliminary data indicate significant historic traffic along many of these routes.

Authorized in 1992, the California NHT commemorates the gold rush to the Sierra Nevada.  Dozens of routes and cutoffs were traveled by thousands of pioneers, but no single route dominated. 

The Pony Express NHT was included in the same authorizing legislation as the California NHT.  It commemorates the efforts of this nation struggling to establish a system of communication across the Trans-Missouri west.  The trail primarily follows routes beginning at St. Joseph, Missouri and ending in San Francisco, California.  The firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, a Missouri freighting company, established and operated the Pony Express for one and a half years before it fell on hard times and ceased to exist.  A short section of the trail, from the Missouri River into Kansas, may be worthy of study and is included in S. 580.

All four trails overlap one another in many locations and several of the routes and cutoffs proposed for study in S. 580 are already part of designated trails.  These shared routes are prominent where the trails depart from various points along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, particularly in the Kansas City, St. Joseph, Nebraska City, Council Bluffs and Omaha areas.  Several other shared locations include routes in western Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada and California. 

The National Trail System Act requires that studies of lands proposed for trails be made in consultation with Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as nonprofit trail organizations.  Between 1994 and 1999, the National Park Service—in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, trail advocacy groups and others—completed the Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (1999) for the four trails.  This was the initial plan for the recently established California and Pony Express NHTs as well as revised plans for the earlier established Oregon and Mormon Pioneer NHTs.  S. 580 would allow for the consideration of these additional alternates and cutoffs by authorizing an update of the original studies done for these four trails to evaluate which are eligible for designation as NHT segments.   S. 580 maintains the requirements of the National Trail System Act to work closely with Federal agencies, State, local and tribal governments, local landowners and other interested parties.  We anticipate the cost of updatingthese studies to be approximately $300,000.

The intent of the National Trails System Act is one of respecting private property rights.  Given that historic trails cross public and private lands, the development of strong partnerships is critical to administering and managing the historic trails and achieving preservation of trail resources and interpretation of the trail to the public.  The four national trails in this legislation demonstrate existing public and private partnerships.  

This concludes my testimony.  I would be happy to respond to any questions that you or members of the subcommittee may have.