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The Forest Service Has a Plan for the Pacific Northwest Trail—and It Wants Your Input

USFS will take public comment on its comprehensive plan for one of the least-travelled National Scenic Trails through October 30.

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The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1,200-mile ramble from Montana to Washington’s Olympic Coast, but right now it’s more a motley collection of paths than a single coherent trail. The U.S. Forest Service, however, aims to change that: From now until October 30, the agency is accepting public comment as it works on a comprehensive plan for the PNT.

By law, the comprehensive plan must include objectives and practices for managing the trail, a trail protection plan to ensure safe access to the PNT, and it also must establish a user capacity for the trail that provides for the conservation and enjoyment of significant resources along the trail,” according to the USFS

The comprehensive plan will also address future trail conditions, evaluate trail access, develop educational efforts, and come up with a way to effectively regulate and adjust the trail corridor to comply with National Trails System Act’s regulations. Officials are aiming to enact the plan by late 2023. 

At a time when outdoor recreation is exponentially growing, developing the Pacific Northwest Trail could provide much-needed relief to some of the nation’s most popular destinations, while expanding economic opportunities in remote regions of the Pacific Northwest. 

In an interview with Montana’s Flathead Beacon, Jeff Kish, the executive director of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, called the upcoming development exciting. 

“I love what it could be,” Kish said. “The bones are there, but we still have to flesh it out.” 

Developing federal plans for the PNT also: “gives us the opportunity to preserve what makes the trail so special,” he added. 

Public comment could provide officials with information that would better allow them to protect community interests while evaluating the future of the trail. It’s likely that further development would increase the trail’s popularity. Overall, that might not be a bad thing, but it could also dial up hikers’ impacts on vulnerable sections, like a controversial stretch that runs through grizzly bear habitat in the Yaak Valley.

According to Kish, there have been about 75 PNT thru-hike attempts of the trail over the past several years. All in all, he estimates that about 1,000 people have completed the trail, with its rugged terrain, long roadwalks, and obscurity keeping more away.

To complete a thru-hike of the PNT, travelers have to make their way 1,200 miles through 7 national forests and 3 national parks, starting in Glacier National Park and ending at the Pacific Ocean. The trail features panoramic views of the Rockies and volcanoes, as well as the only saltwater ferry crossing on a national scenic trail.

At this time, about 80% of the PNT travels through public land. About a third of the trail is routed over dirt and paved roads, a figure that the USFS could help reduce. 

Hikers interested in playing a part in the development of the PNT can share their thoughts with the USFS online or by U.S. mail at Pacific Northwest Regional Forester’s Office; Attention: Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Comprehensive Plan Comments; 1220 SW 3rd Avenue, Suite 1700; Portland, Oregon 97204.

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