Trails, whether roadways, waterways, canal systems, bikeways, historic and scenic trails, greenways, or routes that can only traced across the landscape in story, can serve as an effective organizing principle. They can bring people together across political and disciplinary boundaries, knit together fragmented governmental units, and connect communities. Many regions are crisscrossed with miles of streams, abandoned canal systems, disused rail lines, historic paths that served both Native Americans and early explorers, and historic roadways like the National Road or Route 66. These corridors also serve as links to powerful themes from our past: tracing the story of the industrial revolution, remembering cross country treks, following the course of local streams and mighty rivers, providing access to scenic beauty, and marking the way stations for enslaved people seeking freedom. Trails offer an opportunity to undertake regional planning and try out new forms of collaborative management
Appalachian Trail – The premier long distance trail and the longest continuously marked footpath in the world is the Appalachian Trail. Over 2100-miles cross long, this boundary-crossing trail runs through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. Designated as a unit of the National Park Service, the trail is managed through a collaboration of volunteers and trail councils, with the National Park Service as a partner. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy as a nonprofit provides overall management of the many volunteer organizations that support the trail. Volunteer trail partners extend the value of the trail through educational programs and gateway initiatives that reach out to people in the communities along its path.
National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom – This National Park Service program was established to coordinate preservation and education efforts on a nationwide scale and to weave together local historic sites, museums, and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into a larger story. The Underground Railroad was not the series of trails or underground tunnels depicted in myth; it was in fact a network of committed citizens who assisted escaping slaves making their way to safety in Canada or hiding in plain sight in the existing African American communities. Recent research is unlocking this important part of our past and filling in the blanks with actual names and places.