Dog walkers, joggers, families, roller skaters, and those with limited mobility are also eager to explore the region via trails, according to Charles Hines, TPL’s Florida Gulf Coast Trail program director. He says about a third of the planned 300-mile-long trail is finished. He is now working with the state and groups like the Friends of The Legacy Trail to refine the route to take advantage of existing parks and agricultural open space.
Hines, a former Sarasota County commissioner, is confident the full Florida Gulf Coast Trail will eventually come together. “Trails are funny,” he says. “They are the one thing everyone agrees on. Whether you are an environmentalist or a developer or a business owner, you can find in a trail system something that’s beneficial to you.”
Even Major Networks and Iconic Scenic Trails Have Gaps, Putting Key Access Points at Risk
Some 1,500 miles north, Trust for Public Land is busy filling in gaps and expanding three major trail networks in Vermont—the Long Trail (used mainly by hikers), the Catamount Trail (a favorite of cross-country skiers) and the Velomont Trail (a mountain bike destination). These are collectively referred to as TPL’s Green Mountains program.
Begun in 1910, the Long Trail unfolds north to south along the spine of the Green Mountains. Though completed in 1930, the 273-mile trail includes areas that lack permanent public access, with 6 miles remaining that are not legally protected. Those last miles are scattered across a dozen or so private properties whose owners currently allow hikers to cross their land.
The fear is that a future owner might shut down or revoke that access, forcing users to make unwieldy detours on roads. This is the case even on some of the country’s most iconic scenic trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, where the majority of the route is on protected public land, but several sections remain on private lands and are thus vulnerable to closure. Of the 30 National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails designated by Congress, only the Appalachian Trail is completely protected. Even on the A.T. there are many side trails and viewshed parcels still at risk.
In Vermont, Trust for Public Land has worked with the Green Mountain Club for over two decades to ensure permanent public access to the remaining private segments, both through land acquisitions and conservation easements. We have also protected large swaths of land on either side of the trail.
A family takes a hike along a trail near Rolston Rest. Photo: Kurt Budliger
Shelby Semmes, TPL’s New England director, notes that conserving the lands that flank trails is “an important way to protect climate-resilience corridors in the state.” Unfragmented natural landscapes reduce flooding and lower temperatures while preserving migration paths for wildlife.
Kate Wanner, TPL’s senior project manager in Vermont, agrees. “We have done a number of projects that address the fact that 100 feet on either side of the trail was protected, but nothing beyond that,” she explains. “We want to really preserve the wilderness experience.”
Two recent conservation projects—Lincoln Peak and Rolston Rest—do just that. Encompassing 2,800 acres of forests, streams, and scenic peaks, the Rolston Rest property hosts miles of both the Catamount and Long Trails and even includes the new Velomont Trail. Lincoln Peak conserved 619 acres, including 1.34 miles of the Catamount Trail and a buffer around the Long Trail. In September of 2022, the so-called Judevine Headwaters project, undertaken with the Green Mountain Club, will add 14 acres to Long Trail State Forest and guarantee permanent public access to another missing link in the Long Trail. A trailhead parking lot is also planned. See a map of Rolston Rest.
Mike DeBonis, executive director of the Green Mountain Club, which has 10,000 members, said working with Trust for Public Land has yielded positive synergies across trail networks. “TPL has the horsepower—the staff and expertise—to handle these larger real estate transactions and maximize the conservation potential,” he points out. “That’s a benefit not only for us, but other organizations in the state that partner on these projects.”