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Consider A Foot Path From Canada To Texas Through The Great Plains

A footpath that wanders some 1,500 miles from Canada to Texas would showcase the Great Plains. Photo of Scotts Bluff National Monument by Steve Myers.

We already have footpaths that cling to the spines of mountain ranges in the East, the West, and along the Rocky Mountains, but what would you think of one that roamed the prairies from Canada down to the high peaks of northwestern Texas?

Such a trail, running some 1,500 miles, would wind south from Canada's Grasslands National Park through the Great Plains, across landscapes once milling with millions of bison, and lead you up onto the 8,749-foot roof of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

For now the Great Plains Trail is just a concept, a dream of Steve Myers, a Coloradan who first mulled the possibility in 1991 during a trip to Wyoming.

"From there, the idea lay dormant for a long time as I went to college, got married, etc.," he says. "I should note here that I am currently a 5th-grade teacher in Longmont, Colorado, and have been a teacher for the last 12 years.  Incidentally, the Arizona  Trail, which is now officially complete, was also started by a teacher in the 1980s."

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A school teacher with a mission: Steve Myers is pushing the idea for a Great Plains Trail.

About 18 months ago, Mr. Myers decided to see if the idea had any merit that could bring it to fruition. So far, his outreach has exceeded his expectations.

"Last summer, I was able to land my first 'trail commitment.'  I met with representatives from the American Prairie Foundation in Montana, and they were eager to have the trail pass through their substantial holdings (they are in the process of creating a 3+-million-acre preserve in northeast Montana)," says Mr. Myers. "I was next able to land another trail commitment from Pawnee National Grassland in northeast Colorado. 

"The national grasslands are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and fall in a category similar to national forests.  The rangers there are also interested in having the trail as a means to increase their somewhat scant recreation opportunities."

Why blaze a trail from Canada to Texas?

"I believe the Great Plains is an often overlooked national treasure with remarkable scenic qualities, incredible wildlife, and a rich human history," explains Mr. Myers. "I believe the best way to experience the beauty of the Great Plains (or any place for that matter) is through direct experience and recreation."

While Mr. Myers has roughed out a map that shows, in theory, where the trail might trek, he says an exact location hasn't been developed, in part because private lands might be involved and permission to cross public lands and properties owned by conservation groups need to be obtained.

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The "bluff" at Scotts Bluff National Monument offers sweeping views of the Plains. Steve Myers photo.

"Obviously, there is a large percentage of private land in this part of the country, but the goal of the Great Plains Trail is to first go after the 'low hanging fruit,' which will consist of any public lands, private holdings interested in conservation (such as the American Prairie Reserve), or even already existing trails interested in partnering with the Great Plains Trail," he says.

"After that, the long-term plan would be to connect the dots with willing owners of private lands who might donate land, or create a conservation easement.  Where private land owners are less willing, the trail could potentially use country roads to allow people who want to do a longer hike, bike, or horse back ride access to the next section of real trail. 

"Over the very long term, it would be great to connect all of the dots and have a continuous trail, but that is likely many decades out."

The trailblazer currently is working to create a more formal non-profit organization to build momentum and support for a Great Plains Trail.

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As envisioned, the Great Plains Trail would pass through Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado. Steve Myers photo.

Once the non-profit is formed, the work of encouraging donations and securing grants to continue bringing the trail to reality wll take over.

"The eventual goal is for the trail to be designated as a National Scenic Trail in the grand tradition of such trails as the Appalachian Trail, and be administered by the National Park Service," Mr. Myers said. "The non-profit organization would still be in charge of day-to-day operations, but the oversight would be by the Park Service.

"Creating the trail will be a very long process, but it is my belief that even a partially completed trail will at least allow people to connect the trail in their minds, and allow their imaginations to visualize the immense grassland ecosystem that was once intact in the center of North America," he said.

You can follow Mr. Myers' progress at his blog, The Great Plains Trail.

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Thanks to everyone who commented here!  I am encouraged by the support and enthusiasm that has been shown toward this effort.  Onward with the Great Plains Trail!

Fantastic idea!  While I'm a big fan of the Rocky Mountain Trail, this would be super for those who don't want to trek along at altitude. The Great Plains need preservation (and appreciation). I will be following this closely.

Congrats to Steve for all of his progress on making this a reality!  The temperate grassland ecosystem is one of the least protected habitats on the planet - and getting the public out to see what a beautiful, diverse place it is will be an essential part of its conservation.

Yes!  Let's do it.

An amibitious vision to preserve a dissapearing national treasure.  It takes the passion of persons like Steve Meyers to push these critical long term goals of national and global significance.  Others are here to rally around and help you Teewinot.

Wow, what a brilliant idea!
The Great Plains are beautiful in their own way. I enjoy the vast vistas every time I'm somewhere in their midst.

The intention is to create a non-motorized trail, so bikes would definitely be a part of the mix.

Should be an interesting time in DC, Kurt.  Hope to hear what you have to report.  

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