Fun in the sun: The National Scenic Trails Workshop and NCT Trail Management Staff Meeting in Pensacola, Florida November 13-18
by Andrea Ketchmark
In the last 49 years since the 1968 passage of the National Trails System Act, only 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails have been designated by Congress. The purpose of these trails are to showcase the wild scenic beauty of our country along with the important historic and cultural events that took place throughout our history. These Trails – although different in length, geography and purpose – all face similar struggles.
As a member of the Partnership for the National Trails System (PNTS) the NCTA works with these other trails in a variety of ways. Founded in 1997, the PNTS “connects member not-for-profit trail organizations and Federal agency partners to further the protection, completion, and stewardship of the 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails within the National Trails System.” This partnership gives strength to each of us as individual professionals but also helps to make our collective voice one that will be heard.
Through PNTS’ Advocacy and Policy Committee we monitor federal agency policy and spend significant time responding to those that have an impact on our trails. With this coordinated effort to ensure our voices are heard we’ve been successful in shaping policy to reflect the needs of the trails and that of our volunteer stewards. It’s through the PNTS that we elicit nationwide support for our NCT legislation (e.g. the Route Adjustment Act or ).
Through PNTS Biennial Scenic / Historic Trail Workshops and its joint Biennial Conferences, agency and nonprofit staff gather to learn more about emerging issues including energy development and land acquisition. We hone our skills in GIS and brainstorm ideas for public engagement and marketing. We share our successes and challenges, heartbreaks and new ideas. I’ve brought back much of what I’ve learned over the years and incorporated it into what we do at NCTA.
This year’s National Scenic Trail workshop was held in November 2016 in Pensacola, hosted by the Florida Trail Association. NCTA’s Director of Trail Development, Regional Trail Coordinators and GIS Coordinator (Andrea, Matt R., Matt D, Kenny and Bill) attended along with all three of our National Park Service staff (Mark, Chris and Luke). On the agenda were topics such as using GIS to support land acquisition, coping with increased use on the trail and strategies to engage diverse audiences. Most of the sessions were presented in an open space meeting format, which offers incredible flexibility for the conversations to benefit those in the room. There were also plenary sessions focused on Trail Protection planning and Youth and Diversity. Our staff attended many of the sessions and have been reporting back on how they think we can use what they learned. The moderators of each session also take notes and they will be distributed to all attendees. (Note: the agenda is online for anyone interested in learning more about these workshops.)
If possible, we also like to take advantage our time at the workshops to have our own meetings with NCTA and NPS staff. This year, we arrived in Florida a day early to hold a one-day planning session that made positive movement forward on our challenge to define the roles and responsibilities in our partnership as each of us grows.
Maybe most important are the personal connections we build while at these workshops, both between the larger community and within our own staff. I watched as the dynamic between our NCTA and NPS staff changed when we got on the beach volleyball court and how ideas came alive when we shared a beer while watching the sun set. It is those experiences that set a tone that will last long beyond this workshop.
With only 11 National Scenic Trails, the work we do is specialized. This community offers the opportunity to share, collaborate and learn from each other and a chance to celebrate with and lean on each other. It’s a powerful community and we are proud to be part of it.
Here is what the staff had to say about attending the Workshop:
“These workshops have a more intimate feel than the regular conferences that I’ve been too and they cover a wide variety of topics. You get to chose which one of the four topics for that hour you’d like to attend, and if you and some others would like to further discuss a particular topic or start a new one, simply do so. Also if you find that the discussion isn’t exactly what you thought it would be then you are encouraged to leave and attend another discussion. The small groups offer more opportunities to talk about your specific issues and get ideas and thoughts from other organizations, and with all the National Scenic invited you get a wide variety of different perspectives.” — Kenny Wawsczyk, Regional Trail Coordinator for MI
“It is always good to attend these conferences and to re-connect with the trail staff from our sister NSTs. I never fail to be re-energized by the things we talk about both during the formal sessions and during the more informal after hour gatherings.
Several of the formal sessions were totally interesting and informative. It is particularly interesting to hear how our Forest Service trail managers are forging ahead with Regional and National policies to protect the trails they manage.” — Bill Menke, Regional Trail Coordinator for WI
“The opportunity to spend time with other mapping and GIS professionals, that are specifically focused on National Trails GIS issues, is priceless. The exchanging of ideas can get especially intense on this topic. Concepts that I have been introduced to from these workshops have definitely moved the needle forward on the NCTA’s GIS program. It’s also been really neat to see how some of the contributions we’ve made have been molded and modified by other trail groups.” — Matt Rowbotham, NCTA’s GIS Coordinator
“I left Pensacola with some concrete ideas for strengthening the relationships with all of our agency partners in both North Dakota and Minnesota. The after hours networking with our NST colleagues is both invaluable and fun…and my morning walks on the beach were pretty enjoyable!” — Matthew Davis, Regional Trail Coordinator for ND & MN