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Views From the Trail

Thu Jun 28, 2018
Adirondack Black Bear Painting
Adirondack Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Illustrated by Oliver Kemp. “Annual Report of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission of the state of New York,” Albany, N.Y., 1902.

Get out and hike, bird-watch, picnic, kayak or rock-climb to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our National Trails System!

In the summer of 1968, the United States Congress passed legislation to establish a system of nature, recreational, and historic trails for public use across the country. In October, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trail Systems Act into law. Over the 50 years since, the law has given us 11 National Scenic Trails, 19 National Historic Trails, and over 1,200 National Recreation Trails. If you’ve ever found yourself taking in some gorgeous views in a national park or state forest somewhere between the Adirondack High Peaks and the Florida panhandle, or between the Connecticut shoreline and the Pacific Northwest, there’s a good chance that at one point you were standing on a trail that is part of this system.

The groundwork for America’s National Trails was laid in the late 1800’s, with a blossoming interest in preserving and appreciating the American wilderness. Reformers such as the naturalist John Muir brought attention the question of conservation by kindling a newfound interest in the American people for nature. Moved by the eloquence of Muir’s appeals as he exhorted his fellow American’s to “keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods…[and] wash your spirit clean,” the public was romanced by the great outdoors.

Public appreciation for the value of wilderness and green spaces was further inspired by the work of agencies like the New York Forest, Fish and Game Commission, which in the late 19th century began publishing an annual report series–the Annual Report of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission of the State of New York– to describe and explain the natural environment of the State of New York. The series represents a notable early attempt by the State government to document and raise awareness about New York’s natural treasures and the need to conserve them. The NYS government commissioned some of the finest environmental and landscape artists of the day to enrich the reports with illustrations that would convey some of the timeless beauty and high adventure to be found in New York’s wilderness. (Check out our recent Vaults of Mann blog for a closer peek at this remarkable series).

Thanks to the combined efforts of visionaries, local citizens, lawmakers, and agencies at all levels of government over the years, Americans today have some great options for getting a good taste of the great outdoors. Given the anniversary, this summer might be a great time to check out the wonders of the country’s national trails system–and for a guide that will help you #findyourway, be sure to check out Trails50. But don’t forget to also look close to home! Those of us here in the Finger Lakes can take advantage of beautiful trails in our area; such as the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail, the Rim and Gorge Trail at Robert H. Treman Park, the Gorge Trail to Bear trail to Lake Treman Loop in Buttermilk Falls, and the Taughannock Falls South Rim Trail:

Additionally, check out the new book display set up by the Mann reference desk, presenting titles from the Cornell Library collections that that offer a variety of perspectives–from practical how-to guidance and maps to story-telling, philosophy and history–on the experience of trails, hiking and the big outdoors in the United States. Listed below, select highlights from the display. Happy reading–and hiking!

Hiking Guides and Tales of Trails:

History and Formation of the Trails System:

Environmental Issues Concerning Trails:

Local, Upstate New York Trails: