National Scenic Trails Parity Act
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. CALDWELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 2964, A BILL TO CLARIFY THE STATUS OF THE NORTH COUNTRY, ICE AGE, AND NEW ENGLAND NATIONAL SCENIC TRAILS AS UNITS OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
MAY 11, 2022
Chairman King, Ranking Member Daines, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2964, a bill to clarify the status of the North Country, Ice Age, and New England National Scenic Trails as units of the National Park System, and for other purposes.
The Department does not object to the goal of S. 2964, which is to treat all six national scenic trails administered by the National Park Service as units of the National Park System. We recommend amending S. 2964 as described in this statement.
S. 2964 would amend the National Trails System Act to require the Secretary of the Interior to administer the North Country, Ice Age, and New England National Scenic Trails as units of the National Park System. Currently, the Act is silent regarding unit status for each of these trails and for all the other long-distance trails designated as national scenic trails.
Of the 23 congressionally designated long-distance trails administered or co-administered by the National Park Service, 6 are national scenic trails and 17 are national historic trails. Of the six national scenic trails, three are currently counted as units of the National Park System. The choice to count these trails as units was an administrative decision reflecting the extent of actual or potential Federal land ownership and the National Park Service's role in administering these trails.
In addition to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which was authorized in 1968 and administratively listed as a unit of the National Park System in 1972, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, both authorized in 1983, were administratively listed as units in the mid-1980 's. Amending the National Trails System Act to provide that the North Country (authorized 1980), Ice Age (authorized 1980), and New England (authorized 2009) National Scenic Trails shall be administered as units of the National Park System would provide consistency in the status of all six national scenic trails.
In order to avoid confusion as to the status of three national scenic trails (the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail) that are currently administratively counted as units, we recommend that S. 2964 be amended so that it also statutorily recognizes the unit status of those three trails. In addition, we recommend that the bill also be worded to clarify that lands within these trails that are not administered by NPS are not subject to laws applicable to the National Park System. We would be pleased to work with the Committee on appropriate language for that purpose. We would also appreciate the opportunity to work with the bill sponsor and trail partners to discuss the practical aspects of implementation.
Regardless of whether trails are counted as units or not, all of the land actually administered by the National Park Service within trails is, by law, part of the National Park System. Conferring unit status does not change the management of that trail or affect any existing agreements, easements, or other legal instruments in effect for the administration of the trail. The designation of a trail as a unit has no impact upon the cost of operating the trail. The National Park Service has taken steps to ensure that trails have equal access to sources of funding and that the public is informed about national scenic and historic trails on the National Park Service website and in other forms of media. We have also worked with the National Park Foundation, our congressionally authorized philanthropic partner, to allow the long-distance trails to be considered for grant funding.
The National Park Service values the unique relationships and partnerships that have been developed with communities along national trails. We will continue to work with our trail partners to improve communications and address any of the concerns that are raised regarding equal treatment for trails.
Chairman King, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.