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MZTA - Mile Zero Trail Association

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Trails

Trails take us to stunning vistas, and to thousand-year-old civilizations and ancient roadways.

They are historic and they are modern. The path most Americans take to their jobs - day in and day out - is a personal trail, though many may call their route a dog-run, blazed by street signs, traffic lights, highway shields and train ETA displays.

They may bring more cars to a big business and push aside small ones. They may take us farther in less time and yet leave us claiming "never enough time." Over a hundred years, they have committed us to cars and trucks more than trains, planes more than ships, because people wanted and needed to go places where new technology could take them.

Substantial time is invested and millions of dollars are spent making new trails between homes and jobs, and economic centers. They are measured, widened, debated and even controversial.

And they are psychological. Making a new trail with more excitement and interest is almost always in the back of every person's mind - to get a new job, go on vacation, go to learn new things, hike the Appalachian Trail, or walk across the nation.

It is fascinating to think of the ideas and reasons behind the 400-500 miles of roadways built more than 1,000 years ago and used by the ancient Puebloan people in the Desert Southwest, where Chaco seems to be the economic, social, religious or other cultural center of their world. Though more like modern roads, uniformly wide over long stretches, they strictly served foot travel and their destinations sometimes reached other climates or distant observatories.

When people stopped needing paths for walking and riding horses, as they were replaced by rails and paved roadways, visionary minds recognized the experiential and recreational potential of the archaic kind. There were places in John Muir's precious Yosemite where the rails could not (and should not) go. And there were rewards to be had in Benton MacKaye's concept for the Appalachian Trail that directly challenged the fast pace of the burgeoning modern car culture and the decline of power of observation in the future shaped by Interstate Highways.

Like the past century, the next 100 years are set to bring tremendous change. We have gotten a glimpse of self-driving cars and artificial intelligence (AI), and had enough experience with automation to know that much of the workforce can be replaced. With all the speculation about robots, it's hard to say if the population will have more free time, or if half of us will have to work round the clock to make, sell and service the robots.

The prospect of trail development, however, is absolutely different today than it was 100 years in the past. More people than ever seek individual sports and recreation. Lodging and transportation include sharing services, usually organized through smart phone apps and community websites. Many people want their activities to support causes they care about. Working from home (or anywhere, really) is possible, even in temporary office-share spaces.

Whether they want to be detached from technology or build a new economy - as they split their day between work and travel, take a few months off work or school, contemplate a big project, or challenge themselves and regain their health - the experience travelers seek and the accommodations they need will likely be very different in the future.


Pueblo Alto Trail

The Pueblo Alto Trail takes modern hikers and history seekers to places on a system of straight roadways that were utilized by Puebloan peoples over a thousand years ago with the towns of Chaco Canyon as a major cultural center in the region.

Chaco Culture

Travel planner and camp leader Mark Lacy gives instructions for volunteers during a camp for young scholars at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The camp utilized outstanding resources featured at several UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Chaco Culture, Mesa Verde National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Chimney Rock National Monument and Taos Pueblo - in the Four Corners region.


Hailstone Trail

The Hailstone Trail reveals geological evidence of the nearby volcanic Turkey Creek caldera that created the unique landscape of the Chiricahua National Monument. It is viewed from a favorite resting spot, Inspiration Point, where young campers have lunch on the challenging Heart of Rocks Trail. The phenomenal vista opens through Ryolite Canyon onto the Willcox Playa, with Dos Cabezas peak (the namesake of Lacy's original camp series) and the Dragoon Mountains (the natural fortification of the Chiricahua Apache chief's Cochise Stronghold).

Student Hikers

Lacy discovered that students planning their adventures and hiking on trails was an excellent educational and recreational activity for them, inspiring interest in learning, creativity and sense of accomplishment. For most - if not all - of them, the experience will also be a major part of the foundation that influences their interests in lifelong learning far beyond formal education.



Historic
Background


 
A trail is more than a line on a map - it is about human connection and cultural exchange.

The world's story is one of trails - trade routes like the Silk Road, expansion of colonial powers on the Camino Real, technological advance on the Transcontinental Railroad, flights for freedom on the Underground Railroad, civil rights marches, modern migration routes, historic hunting trails, ancient irrigation channels, and pilgrimages across the globe.

Historically, trails have good and bad connotations. They have served nearly as much purpose in their modern positive form as they did before recreation, vacation and adventure were part of the common vernacular. They have helped to promote and protect the National Park System - rightfully described in the Ken Burns documentary on the subject as "America's Best Idea." They have served education and historic preservation. For many people, trails and natural environments are directly responsible for health and quality of life. Further more, trails serve ornithologists, photographers, and many other hobbyists. Many of them are nostalgic. And they have a significant role in the economy of most places.

View stories from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that we have linked to in the Video Section.



Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is the most storied of modern American recreation trails. It was conceived by Benton MacKaye in 1921. Sport walking and itinerant camping long predated the invention of the car, but planning and construction of the Appalachian Trail started a new wave of recreation with principles that revere nature and desire for the aesthetic experience to exclude human-made developments to the greatest extent possible.

Katy Trail
As the earliest National Parks were established in the late Nineteenth Century, many new recreation trails were established, most to be accessed by trains, horse-drawn wagons and trail riders. The Appalachian Trail was a long-distance trail, where self-reliant backpackers carry their own kitchen supplies and sleeping quarters. Many backpacking routes have followed the Appalachian Trail, but the three that stand out because they follow the crests of the nation's three greatest and longest mountain ranges, including the Continental Divide Trail (Rocky Mountains) and Pacific Crest Trail (Sierra Nevada and Cascades), form the "Triple Crown of Hiking". While only tens of thousands of people accomplish thru-hikes on them, tens of millions of people utilize them.

Katy Trail
Due to the 1968 National Trails Act and the abandonment of railroad right-of-ways, visionary projects emerged, like The Katy Trail, a Missouri State Park, which allowed cyclists to traverse the state. It is now possible for the nation to have "bike highways" and long trail routes for "super sport walkers" that take them away from overused roadways.

Delta Heritage Trail
The National Trails Act and Rails-to-Trails programs continue to inspire the creation of excellent and highly valued recreational and educational trails, like the Delta Heritage Trail over the east Arkansas alluvial plain, alongside the mighty Mississippi River.



The Link
Trail Idea


 
Having experienced trails as more than trees and earth, finding them to range from great social interaction to dire human survival on the water, Lacy has traveled and studied many fantastic trails.

The value of what can be learned and experienced includes the sublime, spiritual and aesthetic, to understanding the scientific value of trees for human survival on the planet. Trails benefit the spirit, health and even the economy of places.

In adult life, Lacy was an enthusiastic user of trails - crossing Copper Canyon, finding the route of Cabeza de Vaca, climbing to the tops of mountains and waterfalls, and wading through swamps to view the 5,000-year-old production centers of Cypress canoes. While the potential was etched into his experience, it was not a goal to ever even try to envision anything as modern and exciting, though seemingly impossible, as a trail to connect the Appalachian Trail to the Continental Divide Trail, across the Mississippi Delta, Interior Highlands and Southern Great Plains.

For a productive activity in middle school and high school (since he wasn't originally seeking a job), Lacy worked as a surveyor, draftsman, mapmaker and residential designer for his father's engineering business. All the way back to elementary school, he had used the detailed maps his father made, traveling all over Garfield county, exploring along the railroads and drainage systems.

Founder Mark Lacy

The accidental self portrait of Mark Lacy (above) working on a construction site near Enid, Oklahoma was taken while loading a medium format camera with film to do what Google Earth made possible decades later, to survey the land from high in the air. It is out-of-focus since cameras did not offer automatic focus and the camera's lens was set to infinity for aerial photography.

Founder Mark Lacy

Lacy's father was an engineer and surveyor. Following college, one of the earliest projects he worked on with the Oklahoma Highway Department was Scenic Highway 1 through the Ouachita Mountains in Southeastern Oklahoma. Today, the Talimena Scenic Byway is one of the prized drives for nature lovers, especially in the fall, and much of it parallels the Quachita National Recreation Trail through the Ouachita Highlands. Lacy's family has even more historic connections to Oklahoma and the surrounding states, particularly the historic trails and transportation routes.

Grandma Lacy

As a child, Lacy traveled over much of Oklahoma in his grandmother's Volkswagon Beetle, visiting Platt National Park (now the Chickasaw National Recreation Area), Great Salt Plains, Little Sahara, Alabaster Caverns, the Gloss Mountains, and many lakes.

His grandmother, Irene Lacy, was raised on Route 66 in the late 1920s and 1930s. She told stories of working in migrant farm camps in the Texas Panhandle. Following the Dust Bowl, she relocated with her husband, Lester Lacy, to work in California munitions plants during World War II. Her own mother and other relatives came to Oklahoma from their homeland in the Cumberland Gap, where they settled for generations along the Wilderness Road. Lester Lacy's ancestors moved along with the railroads from Wisconsin to Missouri and Oklahoma following the American Civil War. In the boomtown railroad community of Ragtown, which became Hobart, Oklahoma, they built the Lacy Hotel.

Caddo Dwelling

Following a career in journalism, photography and public relations, Lacy worked as a grant writer and non-profit director, developing youth programs and camps, and educational and beneficial programs for Texas cities. He conducted cultural resource inventories and produced numerous photo documentaries on cultural subjects throughout the Southcentral and Southwest United States, and places in Mexico.

His picture (above) is a detail of a reconstructed Caddo Dwelling at Caddo Mounds Texas State Park. It is one of a vast library that will help promote interest and understanding of the Link Trail, and its diverse cultures and environments.


Wichita Indian Village 1850-1875

Even as Oklahoma was designated as the "Indian Territory", where numerous American Indian tribes across the continent were forced to relocate, its varied lands were already home to many indigenous groups with many diverse cultural traditions, demonstrated by the Wichita village (above) near the Illinois Bend of the Red River, depicted in a Smithsonian archive lithograph dated 1850-1875.

Trail of Tears

Being from Oklahoma, Lacy studied the most famous trail that led to the state, literally and figuratively, the Trail of Tears. Its legacy of government Indian removal policy is tragic and reminds us that not all of the world's historic trails are positive, yet they are educational. Many of the most tragic should be the ones the world should adamantly study and remember, with the imperative to do everything better in the future.

Interior Highlands

The presence of the Interior Highlands made Lacy begin to wonder if a great trail could be developed, first for access from the large populations in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, but even more so, for national and international travelers and tourists to wander and explore the surprising land that separates the Appalachian Mountains and Rocky Mountains. As someone who lived in the Heartland, constantly traveled between the dramatic ranges and thoroughly explored the regions refered to as the Wheat Belt and the Cotton Belt, it made sense and was noticeably lacking, especially as long recreation trails and trails with historic designations developed extensively around the nation and all over the world (particularly noting England's coastal trail, France's GR footpath and Canada's Great Trail). In fact, for many cultural, economic and futuristic reasons, the Southern Great Plains to Interior Highlands Trail, or as it was nicknamed as the concept thoroughly developed, the "Link Trail", could even be considered necessary. Lacy has known people who walked across the nation on dangerous highways. Some competitive recreational sports events need the trail to resolve logistical challenges (namely, not having a useful connection between the AT and CDT). The U.S. has few competitive cycling tours that are as impressive as the Link Trail, which could be a world-class event. And, millions of people across the Southcentral U.S. lack access to the kind of recreation the trail will provided.

Oklahoma Elevations Map
Lacy has always known that significant regions of Oklahoma, particularly the uplifts across southern Oklahoma, form an exciting landscape, as demonstrated in the Oklahoma Elevations map above. The southeast offers the graceful Ouachita Mountains and the southwest presents the dramatic Wichita Mountains. In between are coastal plains, blackland prairies, river basins, rolling hills (the Arbuckle Mountains), the Cross Timbers, agricultural lands, and the far reaches of Southern Great Plains.

Oklahoma Elevations Map
With a great deal of experience driving across the Texas Panhandle on Interstate 40 (and even many of the U.S. Highway routes), the real challenge of the Southern Great Plains to Interior Highlands journey is the flat landscape of the Panhandle that seems most mundane, as well as harsh in certain seasons. It is the High Plains and millions of American Indians, Spanish explorers, cattle drivers, pioneers, fortune seekers, railroad builders, farmers, automobile tourists and Dust Bowl refugees who crossed it could not escape its challenges. The experience of those millions of people may be the best reason it should be part of a modern trail today. The detail above from the Floyd Studer map of historic pueblos, surveyed in the 1920s, reveals that it has been an important part of American Indian history and Culture for thousands of years. The Canadian River basin, unique geology and high plains grasslands are also quite beautiful when studied more intently, rather than seen at 75 miles per hour through a bug-spattered car windshield.



A Diverse
and Dramatic
Landscape


 
As Lacy eealizing that the hiker, cyclist and driver would be rewarded with an extraordinary adventure across the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field gave the prospective route added excitement. It is not only a landscape created by periods of volcanic activity, but it contains evidence of dinosaurs and very early human activity determined to be more than 10,000 years in the past. Combined with the dramatic entrance to the Rocky Mountains, rising thousands of feet above the High Plains, it secured the desirability of the route for all modes of travel over the Link Trail.

Raton Clayton Volcanic

It was the relatively close connection between the High Plains and front range of the Rocky Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Range, through the exciting Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field landscape, with craters and the dramatic Capulin Volcano National Monument, that made it apparent that the Link Trail, over all its diverse regions and landscapes, is worth the effort to travel. It will attract hundreds of thru-hikers, thousands of sport walkers and cyclists, tens of thousands of recreationists, and millions of road-trip tourists, local trail users, education travelers, hobbyists and many others who could be interested to depart from the largely uninspiring Interstate 40 and Interstate 30 corridors.

More than a suitable and interesting route, the challenge was discovered to be frequency of lodging. A plan emerged to develop and promote the trail as a fully intermodal route, one that offers options for automobile and bus tours, cyclists (with hopes that sections will develop to allow wheelchair access), and a complete hiking route. At this stage it is possible to connect 100 percent of the planned auto route, about 80-90 percent of cycling route, and 40-60 percent of the hiking route, with the necessary lodging intervals (considering that the hiking route needs to primarily offer camping).

Mississippi Basin

The Link Trail is a very different concept in recreation trails. Rather than following the crests of mountain ranges, its direct path over the Interior Highlands takes it across the larger Mississippi Basin - from the Appalachian Mountains, following the Tennessee River along the Lower Ohio River Basin, crossing the Mississippi Delta, and moving up between the Arkansas and Red River Basins. The route provides access to an amazing array of environments and interesting landscapes.

Mississippi Crossing

Making a Mississippi River crossing appeared to be a challenge for pedestrians and cyclists, but because most communities are driven by desire to connect through all sorts of visionary projects, it turns out that a project called Big River Crossing completed a connection between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas in early 2018. As the best route was surveyed between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Taos, New Mexico, many interesting projects that help connect the trail were discovered in planning and in progress.

Lorraine Motel Plaque

As a route across the south to connect the two mountain ranges was plotted, in included many of the most historic and iconic places in the nation. Common themes emerged. Cultural experience stood out as the most significant aspect of the trail, as a important benefit for both the local communities and visitor. The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, which became a Civil Rights Museum following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrates the value of educational and cultural resources to be experienced along the length of the trail corridor.


Ozark Trails Roads

The historic Ozark Trails system of roadways, some of which are found along the planned route of the Link Trail, demonstrate the importance of the vision of organizations like the Ozark Trails Association and National Park-to-Park Highway Association. The Ozark Trails became historically significant, like Route 66, and routes are utilized to this day. Lacy's family even traveled some of the historic roads when he was a child to visit popular vacation destinations in the Ozark Mountains. Some of the old organizational failures stand as warning signs and monuments for the economic challenges faced by small communities in the world today. (A concise statement about this is included on the city of Rogers, Arkansas website: "Tourists traveling by car often wanted to stay in a variety of places, rather than remain at one resort for a week or two.") Their methods of road development as thematic trails have had very important economic impact and provided access for ordinary Americans to parks and opportunities. The histories of many diverse trail associations and conservancies have served as a model for planning and development of the Mile Zero Trail Association.



Culture and
Quality of Life
Benefits


 
Trails may be as long as eternity, or as short as a single event.

While we often think of trails as lengthy or extensive - like the route of Lewis and Clark, or the Oregon Trail - or even the modern recreation trails that keep expanding by thousands and thousands of miles - like the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) or Canada's "Great Trail" (originally the TransCanada Trail) - many of the most effective are actually short.

Many trails strive for thematic unification, and social and natural activity (that may also have artistic and economic activity) - the High Line (NYC park), Azalea Trail, Creole Nature Trail, art walk, pub crawl, Main Street, Art Car Parade...

A trail can be cultural, as much as it may be natural. And it doesn't have to be the longest or the shortest. For many people, a suitable trail is one that is manageable in their limited time, or with limited resources, or nearer their homes.

Trails may be made by animals on their migration, people on a pilgrimage, or government on a strategic mission.

Based on new ideas about trails, Lacy believes it is possible to make a trail as a series of connected communities and cultural activities. The Link Trail may utilize its full length as a competitive cycling tour or thru-hike to join one of the "Triple Crown" trails, but it may also serve to connect communities that are merely a few miles apart for a day of bike riding, a charity fun run, or a weekend getaway to a neighboring town or lakeside campsite. A high school's cross-country runners may use it on Wednesday, a group of carpooling tourists seeking antiques on Saturday, a leisure group out for a bike ride on Sunday, and in the best potential use, a group of wheelchair athletes training on Monday.

People may not place the same value on using their feet to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail over six months, their car to drive the historic National Park-to-Park Highway to visit the first of our National Parks in four weeks, or a bikeshare to tour a future trail on the Trinity River from Dallas to Fort Worth on a Saturday, but access to all the possibilities is what people deserve.


Park-To-Park Highway

The National Park-to-Park Highway was initiated in 1916 with the formation of the National Park-to-Park Highway Association. The group advocated for improved roads that would give Americans access to 12 of the earliest National Parks in the western United States. Formerly, mostly elite Americans were able to visit National Parks like Yellowstone and Glacier by trains and fairly elaborate tours. The National Park-to-Park Highway Association led the first tour of the newly connected highway and road system in 1920.

Turquoise Trail

The Turquoise Trail, an auto route designated as an historic and scenic byway, stands as a successful example - one that drawns from historic and cultural interests to build tourism and support local owners of distinctive businesses and improves quality of life.

To emphasize the diversity of options and interests (recreation, education, religion, culture, etc.), at the Western end of the Link Trail, it will be possible to connect with other hiking and biking recreation trails, including the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the Camino Real National Historic Trail, the annual traditional Pilgrimage to Chimayo, and the Turquoise Trail. Similar diverse options for hiking, biking and driving exist at the Eastern end of the Link Trail.

Interurban Map

The greater Dallas-Fort Worth area was historically connected by a network of Interurban railways (shown on a historic map at the Plano, Texas Interurban Railway Museum). Modern trains and light rail lines have nearly recreated the system. Along with the future Veloweb trails and the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) Cotton Belt Line, commuter and recreation trails make the city a great destination and/or point of origin for travelers on the Link Trail, whether they are traveling on foot or by bicycle or automobile.

M-Line Trolley

The M-Line Trolley utilizes historic electric train cars as it connects interesting visitor destinations with the DFW Metroplex network of trails and mass transit.



Founder's
Vision


 
The Link Trail is intermodal and it serves a wide variety of interests.
Being intermodal is partly a practical solution, as well as an understanding of the realities of the future. The frequency of lodging and services needed to accommodate drivers exists, and nearly exists to accommodate cyclists and sport walkers, but will need time and economic activity to shelter backpackers. The variety of home- and ride-sharing services that are developing, along with the potential for them to expand and adapt in the future, indicates that the successful completion of the trail is entirely possible. And there is economic need to be involved in visitor services in nearly all of the communities in the corridor of the Link Trail.

The variety of interests - natural, geological, historic, cultural, artistic, etc. - that have been identified in a preliminary assessment are far too many to mention. Scenery and beauty exists. The diversity of environments will challenge and excite many. It is mountainous, flat, rugged, pleasant, difficult and fast.

The Link Trail achieves a grand purpose, to connect many American long distance trails. And it serves local needs by better linking many distinctive communities, while attracting interested travelers.
The strength of the trail is its connections from all points to two of the nation's most icon mountain ranges - the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains - and its most iconic river - the Mississippi. It utilizes the diverse landscapes across the American Heartland. Crossing the nation's Southeast, Southcentral and Southwest regions, the trail bridges a modern pluralistic nation with a phenomenally diverse cultural history. Communities along the Link Trail are thriving, while others need revitalization, or just a little more activity to bring character back to their downtowns.

The Link Trail utilizes a frequency of resources along the way for hospitality and visitor services, and aims to fill in gaps where needed. A major benefit is to better distribute users along the trail.
The repetition of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and other public recreation and camping places makes for a very strong trail. Increased use of the many underutilized resources along the corridor will enhance the availability of lodging, camping, backpacker quarters and home-sharing services. And it will promote development of many interesting businesses, educational resources and engaging activities in communities.

Various strategies include: Interest many travelers on the busy I-40 and I-30 highways to consider detours and loop tours to places on the trail; Promote the value of the trail for tour groups through suggested themes and itineraries; Describe the route for cyclists and sport walkers (particularly those that may be able to utilize support vehicles); Promote the distinctive American places along the trail for the interest of international travelers; Encourage local communities, through chapter organizations, to identify unique features and help develop useful services, events and attractions; Launch efforts for groups to hike the segments of the trail that are available for multi-day backpacking. Organize cultural exchange tours on the link trail; And, plan and offer activities for members, communities and groups, such as youth camps and travel opportunities.

A few examples are pictured below.


Wildlife and Nature

The trail offer extensive exposure to wildlife and nature, along with a wide variety of distinctive landscapes - the Appalachian Mountains, Interior Highlands and Rocky Mountains, separated by volcanoes, high plains, basins and the Mississippi Delta.

Camp Student Group

Possible locations along the Link Trail offer opportunities for excellent youth camps. Camps may serve members' children, as well as children who are provided scholarships. Permanent camp locations may serve the needs of other organizations with similar missions and values. [LEARN MORE]

Education Exhibit

The cultural diversity and history found along the Link Trail presents extensive educational opportunities. In fact, it is rch, exciting and important enough to form a National Cultural Trail. Though no such designation exists, it is a appropriate goal for communities along the trail to take on the challenge as if it were the "Field of Dreams". [LEARN MORE]

Music and Arts

Drawing from experience with the Artery Media Project in Houston, where local artists and touring musicians from around the world were featured for live audiences and documented for historical and educational uses, places along the Link Trail may develop into unique cultural settings, with interesting venues, programming and abundant artistic/cultural resources.

Learn more about this exciting project:

The Link Trail
Link Trail Details
Background
Chapter Organizations
Chapter Divisions
A Cultural Trail
Trail Interests
Founder's Vision
Origins of MZTA
FAQs and More




Just a reminder: As a non-profit organization, camp and travel programs are not planned or intended to be commercial tours. While some may help the organization generate revenue for key programs through donations, most are expected to be offered at-cost for organization members to ensure that the benefits of the mission and goals are extended to its members. MZTA members are invited and needed to be involved in planning.



More information and photo galleries will be provided. Stay tuned!


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