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MZTA - Mile Zero Trail Association

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Introduction

At the dawn of the automobile age, Benton MacKaye had a vision for a long-distance foot trail from Georgia to Maine. The 1921 concept for the Appalachian Trail and the organization that developed to maintain and protect it, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), provided such extensive benefits to the nation and world on the verge of tremendous cultural transformation that the early Twentieth Century visionaries surely could not have fully understood their impacts. The legacy of the Appalachian Trail and ATC in promoting recreation, environmental stewardship and wilderness preservation is irrefutable.

As the Appalachian Trail approaches its centennial, the world faces even greater technological transformation, along with a paradox of associated conveniences and their destructive complications.

As it was a century ago, it is today only partly possible to predict the negative affects of technological advancements and to develop proactive approaches to address them. Autonomous cars may drive themselves. Robotics and artificial intelligence may continue to diminish the need for human labor. It may be less necessary to work from a stationary location (home or office). Students may be increasingly educated away from traditional classrooms and campuses. Most people may be even more sedentary than they've become. Economics may be more divisive than before, making access to education, opportunity and quality of life more stratified. Success in distinctive arts and independent businesses may be even more challenging. Highly meritorious vernacular and cultural arts may struggle more than they do presently to find support.

It seems clear, however, that due to technology and changing occupations, it will be necessary to promote greater interest in healthy activities and it will be more important than ever before to develop community and educational activities in social settings.

The role of organizations, particularly non-profit organizations, appears to be even more vital and necessary in the future, even if they face greater difficulty, to address many future needs.



Above photo: A Carnival Connection performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre, produced by Houston Institute for Culture, is an exciting example of the kinds of educational and cultural exchange programs Mile Zero Trail Association members and Chapter Organizations may organize.


Background

How the New Vision Started

Two paths converged to form an innovative idea that may be the best way for the Mile Zero Trail Association (MZTA) to address many needs in the future.

Through a study to connect cities like Dallas, Little Rock and Memphis by utilizing existing interior mountain ranges and recreation trails, it became clear that a greater achievement was possible. A way to celebrate the storied Appalachian Trail as it approaches its centennial and promote the many benefits of the National Trails System (which turned 50 in 2018) is to connect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail with the Continental Divide (the National Scenic Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route).

Connecting the two prominent mountain ranges and bridging a major gap in an extensive National Trails System, while linking many communities and resources from the Southern Great Plains to the Interior Highlands, and over the Mississippi Delta and Eastern Highlands, the concept of the Link Trail was born.

Increased awareness of ready-made trail communities like Medicine Park, Oklahoma, historic places like Tupelo, Mississippi, and undiscovered regions like the archaeology, paleontology and geology rich Texas Panhandle and Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field will attract more education travelers and vacationers. Adventure destinations like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Taos, New Mexico will be connected for serious recreationists.

It became clear, however, that the best way to accomplish such a monumental task is to work toward an intermodal trail (for recreation, as well as archaic and future forms of transit) in order to blaze the path and develop the lodging needed in the most efficient way. Partly, because lodging is available for cars and bikes, but more must be more developed for hikers.

In addition to recreation enthusiasts, several of the people working with this unique idea are experienced educators, historians, community advocates and cultural arts programmers. They have been involved with exceptional events, youth programs and arts facilities in the past (see the gallery below), including The Artery, Camp Dos Cabezas, Houston Cool, Youth Voices (after school programs), East End Studio Gallery, and numerous arts and education events in city parks, university venues and other art spaces.

The concept of the Link Trail, being needed and highly beneficial to communities along its best possible course, presented the perfect forum and organization structure to accomplish a number of cultural and educational program goals, particularly improvement of the youth camp and expansion of beneficial arts and education programs. The idea to overlay a traditional non-profit organization, which is usually bound by a city or state, on a recreational and intermodal trail appears largely to be a natural fit, though a minor challenge to introduce to audiences as an innovative concept, since it defies many established traditions.

A study of the geography, history and cultural and natural resources along the Link Trail corridor revealed the possibility of a great new concept - a "National Cultural Trail". The possibility to utilize the existing features, landscape and geology to attract interest, for the benefit of many struggling communities and valuable cultural traditions, made the trail an easily recognizable American treasure. Its development should be an important imperative for volunteers and even an urgent high priority for local communities and governments.

The need to develop Chapter Organizations along the trail corridor, generally mirroring the role of the system of Trail Clubs in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, presented to possibility for people in local communities to work toward community needs, including visitors and program development, and work toward the best overall potential of the Link Trail.



A group of young scholars prepare for an educational hike. MZTA Chapter Organizations and groups may choose to
help organize and establish youth programs, and make camp opportunities available to local students.



Grassroots
Activity

Many Hands are Needed

Along with the assistance of many people organized in Chapter Organizations to help establish the route and prepare information about the corridor, the inclusion of many diverse ideas and community interests is equally as important.

Following are views the organization developed about modern trail development.
Conceptual - The Link Trail begins with a strong idea. It serves many purposes and has extended potential. The ability to hike or bike from Dallas to the Ouchita Mountains or the Wichita Mountains is exciting. To be able to connect from Dallas to Little Rock with just a little work on trail development is even more exciting. And the possibility to connect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail with hiking and biking trails is among the most useful concept. Sections of the trail would likely see several million users and the entire length may challenge several thousand thru-hikers. Utilizing the most scenic and technical segments in the trail for a multi-stage competitive cycling tour is perhaps one of the most exciting of the possible extended benefits.

Intermodal - The existing trail and sections to be surveyed from numerous possible existing or to-be-developed routes offer excellent possibilities for hiking (leisure, backpacking, as well as trekking, sport walking, cross-country trail running, and more), cycling (leisure, touring, and even a competitive cycling tour), auto touring (an exciting route for vacation adventure travelers, carpooling, bus tours and future modes of transit, including possible music and arts tours), and more.

Hospitable - Chapter Organizations will make an important contribution to the hospitality needs of the trail. Lodging is available at the frequency needed for auto touring, and over most of the trail at the frequency needed for cycling. Additional lodging, like primitive and backcountry walk-in sites, or even backpackers hostels and other quarters, is need for long-distance hikers. Lodging is sufficient for recreational hikers who utilize vehicles to access segments of the route or even employ a support vehicle to cover the full route. Hospitality also includes available local information, food, services and helpful people. The organization may work toward additional facilities in the future, including camps, youth camps, local markets, visitor centers, and media and art centers.

Economic - The Link Trail and all the activities and attractions associated with it will have economic benefits for local communities. There may be opportunities for regions to coordinate promotional campaigns to further extend economic benefits to more populations, and cultural and educational institutions on and near the trail corridor.

Cultural - Possibly the most innovative and inspirational way to think of the trail and its development is to consider the potential to function as a cultural organization with numerous chapter Organizations to provide cultural programming, educational activities, social connections and provide for the interests of many tourists and travelers.

Technological - Development of a trail today is extremely different than it was a century ago. "Getting away from it all" may be only part of the appeal to users. Seeing it all, including a wider variety of landscapes and many American iconic places may be important to many travelers. Rather than getting away from tech, the future for some may be getting away from stagnant workplaces and sedentary lifestyles. Taking work or personal projects on the road may be a consideration for many, as remote officing becomes increasingly possible and more popular. Informative apps and internet access may be important for some. The combination of GPS, printed maps, signage, blazes and advanced study one chooses to rely on will be interesting. The trail may utilize autonomous vehicles, ride sharing, home and camp place sharing apps, and other travel technologies that were not formerly considered in trail development.

The organization, Mile Zero Trail Association, may be as much a culture and travel organization, as it is a recreation organization. With the mission of a trail association, as well as the goals of a cultural organization applied to a trail corridor, the Link Trail will be uniquely connected by a wide variety of interesting and educational things to do for people with widely varied interests. With challenging and scenic landscapes, along with interpretation of cultural, historic, scientific and industrial subjects, the trail is like a magnificent and comprehensive hall of a museum that passes through natural, rural, agricultural and urban environments with many diverse galleries.

There are tremendous possibilitlies to further develop the trail and its usefulness, including a unifying, trail-wide festival or a Link Trail music and arts tour.

Additional possibilities for Chapter Organizations to consider include:
-Establishment of a permanent base for youth camps.
-Location of camping areas or backpacker quarters.
-Provision of visitor information centers for travelers.
-A multi-stage competitive cycling tour.
    (Similar to the Tour de France)
-Newsletter and website promotion of unique features.
-Coordinated travel promotion for economic benefits.
-Trail travel using multiple modes of transit.
-A tree planting and education program.
    (Similar to Houston Cool)
-Production of writer workshops or film screenings.
-A cemetery documentary day for genealogists.



Archive


Huehuetl at Bohemeo's - Mile Zero Trail Association
Performance by Huehuetl during Celebrate Houston, produced by Houston Institute for Culture (HIFC).




Gallery

A gallery featuring the kinds of programs that organization members have produced and will draw experience from in their plans to continue and improve for much wider audiences is presented below.

HIFC's large productions at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston represent the kinds of programs Mile Zero Trail Association might produce or assist with in cities along the Link Trail.

Houston's Juneteenth Celebration


Organization members have presented the highest caliber of cultural arts for audiences at universities and art spaces.

Namita Bodaji performance


Classical musicians from Kazakhstan perform for a fundraiser to benefit youth programs.

Classical arts of Kazakhstan


An appearance by Mongolia's Alash Ensemble at The Artery in Houston represents the exciting opportunity for audiences to enjoy top quality international touring artists.

Alash Ensemble at The Artery


Art spaces like the East End Studio Gallery present opportunities for community members to poetry and arts that are becoming less available in school curriculum.

Poetry at East End Studio Gallery


Traditional and family-oriented activities are an important part of opportunities that improve quality of life and strengthen communities.

Family activities at the gallery


Local markets and mini festivals are important in providing opportunities for artists and small businesses.

Local art market


Historic and traditional events are important for cultural competency, like a performance of indigenous dance at the Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial, one of the exciting activities for young scholars during Camp Chaco.

Camp Chaco


To inspire educational interests and lifelong learning, Camp Dos Cabezas students are exposed to an exciting world of adventure and imagination in fascinating geological settings and important archaeological sites.

Camp Dos Cabezas


Young scholars tour informative National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Mesa Verde (pictured), Chaco Canyon and Taos Pueblo during Camp Chaco.

Camp Chaco group tour


Utilizing curriculum that may be applied to students in most education settings, Mile Zero Trail Association members have extensive experience producing innovative youth camps and after-school programs in Houston area schools.

HIFC youth programs


The Media Makers, Youth Voices and Houston Cool youth programs involve students in productive uses of internet and communications technology, as well as the benefits of trees in reducing the heat island effect and cleaning the air, among their many other benefits, in large cities.

HIFC Media Makers and Youth Voices programs


 


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