Overview: American Discovery Trail Society

Three major hiking trails cross southern Ohio using the same footpath. The only one of these that allows hikers to cross the entire United States from coast to coast is the American Discovery Trail. Between Point Reyes National Seashore, California and Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware the trail crosses fifteen states and covers a distance of over 6800 miles, which includes seperate northern and southern routes between western Ohio and central Colorado. The trail passes within three miles of my front door.

This trail describes itself as a Discovery trail, with the distinction being that it offers more than just hiking. Off road cycling and horseback riding are encouraged. The idea is to encourage a more diverse group of people to get out and discover America. However, this creates problems. Most of the trail consists of preexisting trail, much of it designated “hiking only”. This is especailly important here in southern Ohio where the trail shares the footpath of the Buckeye Trail and its partner the North Country Scenic Trail; both of which are hiking only trails. There are very valid reasons for both types of trails, but it is my opinion that until the American Discovery Trail Society steps up its involvement and really provides trail maintenance assistance that the trail should remain hiking only. My reasoning is simple. Horses and cycles do more damage to earthen trails and without constant and consistent maintenance those trails that they use soon become unusable to all three disciplines. I have hiked bridle trails and mountain bike trails and know the basic facts. Mother nature, in the form of hydrodynamics, will turn a down hill trail into a washed out rut and a flat trail into a muddy quagmire. Nature is persistent, but it is also a delicate thing. So if you are an off road cyclist or horseman, please only use those parts of the American Discovery Trail that are designated for your mode of transportation.

I maintain a section of this trail, and I can barely find enough time to keep it up to standards for hiking. If I had to battle fixing erosion or installing drainage I would not be able to keep up with the work. Volunteering is a great thing, unfortunately there just are not enough people who volunteer to maintain trails. And to give credit where it is due, I do know that a Horseman’s club has joined the Buckeye Trail Crew from time to time to build trail. I do not personally know of any horsemen that also provide maintenance hours. As for the cyclists, I have no doubt that there are volunteers. But I must say that those mountain bikers I have seen on hiking trails are normally in such a big hurry to keep their momentum up on the bike, that I doubt they even notice the damage they do. Some cyclists have the bad habit of leaving the trail to jump logs or climb rocks which inflicts damage on the scenery they are suppose to be discovering. I am all for outdoor activity and exercise, I just would like to see a little more courtesy. I am sure that cyclists and horsemen can understand my point of view if they ever encounter one of their trails that has been abused by motorcycles or ATVs.

Regardless of the policy for multi-use trails, I still support the American Discovery Trail Society. As a member I get the quarterly newsletter, Discover America. This quarter contains a picture of the Buckeye Trail Crew eating lunch after building trail in Pike County near Sinking Spring, Ohio. My father and I are in the picture, although we are tiny figures in the distance. Still, it is kind of cool to be in a national publication.

Probably the most important thing happening with the American Discovery Trail right now is the attempt to get it recognized by the US Congress as the first Discovery trail to be included as part of the National Trails System. Scenic Trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the North Country Trail are already part of this federally recognized and supported trail system. The National Discovery Trails Act is has been introduced to the US House of Representatives and hopefully will come to a vote before the current congress closes shop. I support this Act. There are other Discovery trails that also should have support, trails like the Olympic Discovery Trail in the pacific northwest. Having national recognition may also bring in more needed volunteers.

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