Across the country on June 5, more than one million people will participate in 2,000 events celebrating the 200,000-plus miles of trails in the United States during National Trails Day (NTD).
The brainchild of the American Hiking Society (AHS) and Backpacker magazine, NTD has grown significantly from its launch in 1993 when 100 events attended by 10,000 people thrilled organizers. The idea to raise awareness of the U.S.'s extensive trails network came about following a Reagan administration report, "Trails for all Americans." The report declared every American should be able to walk outside their home or office and be on a trail in 15 minutes. With that report's finding in mind, NTD's original mission was simply to let people know there was a network of trails out their door -- or could be with a little grassroots community help.
With over a million participants expected to gather nationwide this year, NTD is expanding on the original mission. This year's theme is "Trails and Healthâ€¦A Natural Connection," which is building upon a multi-year health campaign started in 2002 by AHS.
"We're really trying to address this public health crisis of inactivity and obesity," said NTD's Darren Schwartz. "We're trying to say it's as simple as having a balanced lifestyle -- being active and healthy and also eating healthy. We just try to cover the active part of it. A lot of people know that hiking and virtually all human-powered sports are easy to get into; they don't take a lot of skill or equipment, just a sturdy pair of shoes or a bicycle.
"Our overriding theme is to promote the health benefits of our public trails system," he added.
One-third of NTD's events are community service projects, and the remaining two-thirds are recreation based. New York will be holding the first-ever National Trails Day New York with events in all five boroughs, while Connecticut, an active participant in NTD for years, will have over 70 events throughout the state. Schwartz said many sponsors are promoting trail building and maintenance projects this year, but there will also be trail openings and dedications, outdoor festivals, hikes, workshops, bike rides, paddling events and climbing area clean-ups.
"It's a day we like to call our 'ecumenical' day, where we embrace all trail users, so it's not just about the sport of hiking. It's about all human-powered activities on trails," Schwartz said. "We like that it's a mixture of all sorts of types of events. As long as it's something that generally fits the theme and the purpose and the goals and it's a good-natured event, we definitely embrace them."
To help in the mission, various industry companies have once-again stepped up as program sponsors, including Backpacker magazine, Thorlos, Royal Robbins and retailers Eastern Mountain Sports, Galyan's and REI. Lipton Tea is also a sponsor and is piggybacking with existing festivals and events to introduce the sport of hiking to new users and the health benefits of its tea as part of its "Simple Steps Tour." Sponsor support contributes more than $150,000 in cash, as well as provides for donations of promotional items, like posters, banners and shirts. In addition, sponsor support provides funding for a dedicated full-time NTD manager and the hiring of a public relations firm to promote the event.
"Virtually, we wouldn't be able to run the program without the sponsors," Schwartz said. "(Their sponsor dollars) really go to a variety of things to fund the program. We use the support to help coordinate the program nationally."
Among the activities and promotions sponsors are doing for NTD are:
- Backpacker Magazine: As this year's media sponsor, Backpacker is assisting AHS's public relations efforts by running a series of NTD advertisements, recruiting volunteers at Get Out More! tour stops, sending an NTD poster to each of its retail vendors, and promoting events on its website.
- Eastern Mountain Sports: With 88 stores nationwide, EMS is awarding $500 grants per store -- for a total of $44,000 -- to a trail club or environmental group to use for a specific NTD project. It's also promoting NTD in major-market newspapers in the New England area.
- Galyan's: All 46 Galyan's stores are displaying posters and handing out fliers abut local NTD events, and merchandising a "Gear for the Trail" section with the latest trail performance equipment and apparel. On June 5, it will officially celebrate NTD as part of the Galyan's 4 Adventure Tour at its Orlando Park, Ill., store.
- REI: Already an active participant in community volunteer activities -- 23,000 hours a year -- all of its 70 stores will participate in locally organized events on June 5.It also has signage at the front of each store promoting local NTD events and take-away fliers with information about them.
- Royal Robbins: The apparel company has spearheaded a comprehensive in-store retail marketing campaign to encourage its 800-plus retail vendors to participate in and promote NTD. Its efforts include product hangtags offering a discounted membership in AHS, POP signage, co-op advertising and employee clinic incentives. Royal Robbins also designed this year's NTD poster and is outfitting AHS's volunteer ambassadors at NTD events. On June 5, Royal Robbins' employees will dedicate two miles of newly constructed trail in California.
- Thorlos: Theofficial sock sponsor for the past 10 years will provide products to volunteers and event hosts, has donated design services, and is helping individual events plan their activities. Plus, it's offering a sweepstakes for NTD participants to win free socks.
AHS's website, www.americanhiking.org, has detailed information on how to host a NTD event, get involved in local planning and search for local registered events across the country.