National Trails System Map Southcentral Detail

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Background and Significance

The Southern Great Plains to Interior Highlands Trail, the Link Trail, is an important and unique addition to the system of National Trails.

The Link Trail connects two of the most significant of the national recreation trails, designated National Scenic Trails, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. (View them in the detailed maps below.)

By connecting two of the three trails that are considered the "Triple Crown of Hiking" in the United States, the Link Trail improves the spectacular U.S. recreational trail system to be as functional and robust as those in Canada (the Great Trail), the United Kingdom (a smaller but equally as pioneering of a system of National Trails and Long Distance Routes) and the European Continent's visionary GR footpath.

The National Trails System is primarily made up of recreational National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails. There are numerous other National Recreation Trails, "Rail Trails" (Rails-to-Trails projects), Greenways, and many others with no official designation. It is, however, not a complete system.

The point of continuing to add to and improve the system is not to compete with other nations that are actively building extensive trail networks; it is to provide the best possible experiences for users (casual nature walkers, recreationists, thru-hikers, sport walkers, etc.) from the U.S. and around the world.

While there are isolated regions all around the world where footpaths are in use for daily life-sustaining activity and trade, many of the most developed nations have made a conscious effort to develop or redevelop trail systems, based on history, hobbies, learning, healthy living, recreation, adventure, tourism, etc.

The 37,000 mile French GR (Grande Randonnee) footpath and the broader European E-paths have been in development for the better part of a century. The National Blue Trail (Orszagos Kektura, OKT) in Hungry originated in 1938. The 15,000 mile Trans Canada Trail, the "Great Trail", for cycling and hiking, was conceived in 1992 and is reportedly completed, though improvements continue. Many of the new trails are intermodal, including water routes.

Scotland's Long Distance Routes were established in 1967. England hopes to complete its Coast Path around the entire island nation in 2020, based on the success of its famed South West Coast Path, the historic coastal route in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset counties, that was designated as a National Trail in 1978. The Azure Trail (Sentiero Azzuro) is a major attraction of the Italian Cinque Terre National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was designated in 1997.

In the U.S., one of the world's most famous trails, the Appalachian Trail, was conceived in 1921. It was one of the first to be designated as "National Scenic Trail" in the 1968 National Trails System Act.

Following is a description of the National Trails System in Wikipedia:

The National Trails System was created by the National Trails System Act (Pub.L. 90543, 82 Stat. 919, enacted October 2, 1968), codified at 16 U.S.C. 1241 et seq.

The Act created a series of National trails "to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation." Specifically, the Act authorized three types of trails: the National Scenic Trails, National Recreation Trails and connecting-and-side trails. The 1968 Act also created two national scenic trails: the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest; and requested that an additional fourteen trail routes be studied for possible inclusion.

In 1978, as a result of the study of trails that were most significant for their historic associations, a fourth category of trail was added: the National Historic Trails. Since 1968, over forty trail routes have been studied for inclusion in the system. Of these studied trails, twenty-one have been established as part of the system. Today, the National Trails System consists of 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails and over 1,000 National Recreation Trail and two connecting-and-side trails, with a total length of more than 50,000 miles (80,000 km). These National Trails are more than just for hiking, many are also open for horseback riding, mountain biking and camping.

As Congressionally established long-distance trails, each one is administered by a federal agency, either the Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, or National Park Service. Two of the trails are jointly administered by the BLM and the NPS. Occasionally, these agencies acquire lands to protect key sites, resources and viewsheds. More often than not, they work in partnership with the states, local units of government, land trusts and private landowners, to protect lands and structures along these trails, enabling them to be accessible to the public. National Recreation Trails and connecting-and-side trails do not require Congressional action, but are recognized by actions of the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture. All of the National Trails are supported by private non-profit organizations that work with the various federal agencies under the Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS).

A map of the National Trails System follows, with detailed sections near the bottom of the page.

National Trails System Map
National Trails System Map (View larger maps below)

At the top of the page, a section of the map focuses on the Southcentral United States, including Texas and Oklahoma. The region has relatively few trail, especially when compared to other regions of the United States. North Texas has the "rails-to-trails" project, Northeast Texas Trail, and part of the Ouachita National Recreation Trail runs through Southeastern Oklahoma. Two of the many possibilities for the Link Trail to serve this vital region include: to connect the population [15 million] of Dallas-Fort Worth (and effectively Houston and Oklahoma City by train connections) to the mountains and uplifts of southern Oklahoma; and, to connect the Appalachian Trail with the Continental Divide for hikers, cyclists and adventure travelers, incluing tourists, as well as casual rectreationists among a massive population [36 million] on and near the trail corridor.

The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is an integral part of the development of the Link Trail, to connect the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail over exciting terrain, and the Northeast Texas Trail is an important consideration that makes it possible to establish direct access for all of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to Little Rock, Arkansas, and all points on the Link Trail. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail and others, like the Arkansas River Trail and Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail are critical in thinking about the Link Trail and the future of the network of trails for many users. They provide multi-modal access with parallel auto tour routes, like the Talimena Scenic Byway. Many hiking trail sections are planned for simultaneous utilization by mountain bikes, touring bikes, horse trail riders, and hopefully, greater wheelchair access in the future.

Those obvious capabilities and considerations in future planning for the Link Trail are not the only special and unique features. The Link Trail provides the obvious opportunities for thru-hikers and sport walkers, casual and competitive cyclists, bus tourists and auto sightseers, but also possibilities for the kind of travel that may be utilized in the future - bike and car ridesharing, autonomous vehicle services and connectivity for remote workers.

And being densely laden with historic and cultural resources, the Link Trail also provides opportunities for the Mile Zero Trail Association (MZTA) to promote tourism, education, economic development and youth programs for dozens of communities along a dynamic corridor across the nation.

The Link Trail crosses the terrain shown below, generally along the 35 N parallel (found horizontally across the center of the NASA-JPL image below). The broad features include (left to right) the Rocky Mountains, High Plains (with visible Canadian River valley), Low Plains/basins (Lake Texoma and Arbuckle Uplift are visible), Interior Highlands (Ouachita Mountains are visible, including Lake Ouachita, below the Ozark Plateau), Mississippi Delta, Appalachian Foothills (with Tennessee River Valley and Wheeler Lake are visible) and Eastern Highlands (Appalachian Mountains).

View planning details about the Link Trail.

The Link Trail traverses a phenomenal geological cross section of the United States.

The Link Trail is very unique among trails, which often feature a general terrain, even with elevation changes and changing ecosystems (often a mountain range or canyon), or a single mode of transit (like train, auto or hiking), or historic subject (usually a historic event), or another unified theme.

For those who travel it, the Link Trail is an amazing outdoor museum gallery of physiographic features and landscapes, including the Mississippi Delta, High Plains, canyons and basins, plateaus and volcanoes, and the distinct mountain ranges that bookend it.

It is the kind of trail for which there isn't a designation - a national cultural trail. Across the Southwestern, Southcentral and Southeastern United States, the Link Trail is a cross section of diverse cultures and histories, and intersects with numerous historic trails and highways, and world-shaping event. It is a panorama of culture - food, agriculture, music, social life, industries, occupations, arts, architecture, languages, religions, media, sports, and so much more. The Link Trail is ideal for historians, culture and music lovers, literature enthusiasts, students of art and architecture, photographers, naturalists and geologists, while also serving the athletic challenge seekers - cyclists and sport walkers.

And because the trail offers so many diverse opportunities and is open to various modes of travel, the planning organization, Mile Zero Trail Association (MZTA), is able to draw from the missions and functions of many diverse trail associations and conservancies, which have more than 100 years of guidance and experience in development of trails and highway routes. The goal of its key project, the Link Trail, is to develop a highly useful trail for recreation purposes (including hikers, cyclists and wheelchair riders), while also producing a multi-modal route that serves the organization's goal to promote access to parks and trails.

There are a great many trail associations and conservancies to draw inspiration and planning from, but a few to consider for their diverse missions include: the Wonderland Trail Association, National Park-to-Park Highway Association, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Ozark Trails Association, Natchez Trace Parkway Association, Trail of Tears Association, Pacific Crest Trail Association, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, National Old Trails Road Association, American Automobile Association, the Good Roads Movement, and many more. There are many modern associations that are part of the Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS).

Larger maps of the National Trail System are provided below.

National Trails Map NW
National Trails Map SW
National Trails Map - Western United States

In the Southwestern United States, the Link Trail provides options for connection with the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. It crosses the Old Spanish Trail and Santa Fe National Historic Trails and provides access to the historic El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail. It also accesses the Pilgrimage to Chimayo and many other historic events and trails.

National Trails Map NE
National Trails Map SE
National Trails Map - Eastern United States

In the Southeastern United States, the Link Trail provides at least two options for connection with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. It interacts with the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and crosses, even utilizes a section of, the historic Natchez Trace. It connects with many other scenic, historic and recreation trails in the region.

In addition to the historic trails and scenic recreation trails, MZTA is interested in the history of highways and industrial trails, freedom trails and migration routes, along with pilgrimages, like the Pilgrimage to Chimayo. Because the Link Trail crosses regions that are rich in natural history, the migration routes of animals and many other phenomena of the natural world, like the Monarch butterfly, are also of interest.

A short sampling of various diverse, interesting and important trails, routes and transitways follows:

Recreation Trails
-Appalachian National Scenic Trail
-Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
-Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
-Ouachita National Recreation Trail
-Pinhoti National Recreation Trail
-The High Line (NYC)
-Hayduke Trail
-Bright Angel Trail
-North Country National Scenic Trail
-Arizona National Scenic Trail
-Heart of Rocks Trail
-Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
-East Coast Greenway
-Benton MacKaye Trail
-Iditarod National Historic Trail
-Rogue National Wild and Scenic River
-Buffalo National River
-Slickrock Trail
-Carlbad Caverns Natural Entrance/Big Room Trail
-Katy Trail (Missouri Rail Trail)

Historic Highways
-National Park-to-Park Highway
-U.S. Route 66
-National Old Trails Road
-Bankhead Highway
-Ozark Trails (Highway)
-Million Dollar Highway
-Lincoln Highway
-Meridian Highway
-Old Spanish Trail (Highway)
-Yellowstone Trail (Highway)
-U.S. Route 61 (Blues Highway)
-Talimena Scenic Byway
-Utah Scenic Byway 12
-Pacific Coast Highway
-Going-to-the-Sun Road
-Blue Ridge Parkway
-Texas FM 170 (River Road)
-NC Highway 143 (Cherohala Skyway)
-Arizona State Route 89A
-U.S. Route 1 (Overseas Highway)
-Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

Industrial/Historic Trails
-Underground Railroad
-Natchez Trace
-El Camino Real
-Zuni Trail
-Wilderness Road
-Mississippi River
-Chisholm Trail
-Route of Cabeza de Vaca
-Santa Fe National Historic Trail
-Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
-Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
-Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
-Southern Railway
-St. Louis-San Francisco "Frisco" Railway
-Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad
-Erie Canal
-Tremont Street Subway
-Mullan Road
-Butterfield Overland Mail Route
-Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
-Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

The above list is merely a short set of examples. Many of them are (or were) planned, organized, promoted and maintained by trail associations and conservancies. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of interesting and important historic trails and byways in the United States. Their uses cover most every economic, social, religious, relaxation, aesthetic and recreational need. And the subject of travel, trade, exploration, procession (marches, parades and pilgrimages) in world history only enhances the level of interest and importance. Visit the Planned Programs page for more information about MZTA projects.

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