By Bruce Matthews
Your DC NCTA Advocacy Team spent last week in Washington carrying out our agenda on behalf of the North Country Trail. Myself, Andrea Ketchmark (Director of Trail Development) and Minnesota volunteer John Leinen (who also serves as the Partnership for the National Trails System treasurer) met with 40 different offices of Members of Congress whose District or State is traversed by the NCT. We also met with federal agency representatives, including NPS Director Jarvis, to discuss trails-based issues. Supported by NCTA’s Advocacy committee members (chaired by Peter Nordgren) working locally, your team focused on the Arrowhead Re-Route, support for the National Trails System LWCF Collaborative Landscape Planning proposal, full funding for LWCF and support for NCNST appropriations in the NPS budget. We’ve covered some of the specifics in previous blog posts—hope you’ve had a chance to look at them!
We thought you might like some top level takeaways as we wrap up this year’s Trails Advocacy Week:
- NCTA and the NCNST are part of an increasingly effective coalition bringing together the entire national trails community under the banner of the Partnership for the National Trails System. I am privileged to serve on the PNTS Board. Based on the premise that a rising tide floats all boats, PNTS seeks to be that rising tide and accomplish more effectively what would be difficult for most of us to do on our own.
- The PNTS totals volunteer hours contributed on behalf of all 29 National Scenic and Historic Trails. In 2012 our entire community contributed 1,460,628 hours; total value was $31,827,084 which increased to $39,336,861 when direct contributions were added in. NCTA’s volunteers account for 5% of that—a pretty darn good record among National Scenic Trails, second only to the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. I’ve already shared that the average NCTA volunteer gives five times more in sweat equity than do the members of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Impressive!
- We’re smarter in our approach and our politics. We’re getting better at cherry-picking the right people and approaches to them as we engage in our advocacy efforts. And we’re being viewed with more respect. As we’ve been doing this in our 5th year we look forward to seeing a number of old friends we’ve made in the Members’ offices
- NCTA’s Advocacy Team is growing. We now have a national chair—Peter Nordgren of Wisconsin, who is capably leading a committee that now includes an active representative from every NCNST state. Coordinating efforts as we meet with Member offices both in DC and back home, we’re increasing our effectiveness. We look forward to the day when NCTA’s advocacy is so robust it is engaged at similar levels not only nationally but with every state capital as well, with key relationships at the regional and local levels!
- This year’s coordination between PNTS and the American Hiking Society were a great improvement over 2012. From the pre-Hike the Hill Webinars to AHS’s participation in PNTS events and administrative visits, AHS’s presence was effective, warm and welcome.
- Congress is (appropriately) preoccupied with sequestration issues. A common question we got in our visits was what would sequestration’s impact be on our trails? And clearly the ugly gridlock and partisan politics continue. Yet, we sensed a little hope out there. This new Congress is cautiously encouraging in spite of financial issues and partisan gridlock.
- As critical as it is to communicate the return on Congress’s investment (in 2012 NCTAers returned $5 for every federal dollar invested), others are competing for Member attention using the same tactics. To cut through that clutter we need to not only trumpet the exceptional value of our citizen steward efforts, we also need to be communicating a broader value proposition than simple economics. Its not just about building a trail, its about what the trail represents and the values associated—whether in terms of community health, increased property values, local economic impacts, low-threshold/high outdoor activity opportunities, unparalleled opportunities for healthy youth and family engagement, conservation of key natural resources and corridors….all these things are important and part of this incredible gift of the national trails to the people of America. We need to sing this song louder. No lip syncing allowed!