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While thousands of hikers set out to hike some part of the Continental Divide Trail every year, large sections of the path are still incomplete. That could soon change: A bill introduced by Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO) would direct the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to complete the 3,100-mile trail by its 50th Birthday in 2028.
The CDT is historically known as America’s most rugged long-trail. Stretching from Mexico to Canada through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, the trail takes backpackers through some of the most varied terrain in the country. Ranging in elevation from 4,000 to more than 14,000 feet, the CDT is easily the highest long-distance trail; it also features the highest point on any National Scenic Trail when it travels over the 14,278-foot Gray’s Peak in Colorado.
With large unfinished sections, however, CDT hikers are forced to road-walk or bushwhack to reach other completed sections. Many hikers describe the CDT as the most difficult trail out of the Triple Crown, in part due to its unfinished nature.
According to the American Hiking Society, the CDT’s route changes so often that it has been difficult to label certain sections of it at all. Closing gaps along the trail would help to provide more accessibility to recreational users, and could even take some of the pressure off of other long trails like the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, which see millions of people every year.
While people have been hiking portions of the CDT for hundreds or thousands of years, its modern history as a long trail began in 1978, when a study conducted by the Department of the Interior identified it as a candidate for protection, and the National Parks Land Act subsequently named it a National Scenic Trail.
Since then, a lack of funding and enthusiasm have contributed to delays in the completion of the trail. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Continental Divide Trail Association began to spearhead efforts to complete and maintain the CDT, but later shut down due to lack of funding. In 2012, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition was established to pick up where the CDTA left off.
The bill comes at a watershed moment for hiking in the United States. Americans spend $646 billion dollars on outdoor recreation each year, and the industry also provides 6.1 billion jobs. A 7-year project like the completion of the Continental Divide Trail could enhance both recreational opportunities and employment.
The bill also counts the support of Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, (D-NM). In a press release announcing the bill, Leger Fernandez hailed the legislation’s potential impact on the region in both dollars and natural beauty preserved.
“People have traveled trails through our mountains for centuries—connecting communities, trade and people. Hiking the trails today connects us to the quiet beauty and strength of our forests, as well as the stories of the peoples who traveled here before,” she said.