On a tour at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Photo by Zoë Symon
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Pathways to the Future: Rivers and Trails 2018

Last week I had the privilege of traveling to Vancouver, Washington for a symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of both the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Zoë Symon       Inside Atlas Guides       10/26/2018
Zoë Symon
Inside Atlas Guides

Last week I had the privilege of traveling to Vancouver, Washington for a symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of both the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The four-day event, organized by the Partnership for the National Trails System and the River Management Society, celebrated the past 50 years of protecting trails and rivers, and addressed key issues as we look forward to the next 50 years.

It brought together a variety of different individuals and organizations, from federal agencies to non-profit conservation groups to for-profit companies.

Since the signing of the National Trails System Act, the system has grown from two National Scenic Trails to 11. It has also expanded further with the addition of 19 National Historic Trails, almost 1300 National Recreation Trails, and thousands of miles of rail trails.

Day 1

Before the official opening of the trails portion of the conference, I attended a session put on by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. As an avid hiker and someone who lived religiously by LNT guidelines while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I was eager to learn more and expand my knowledge of LNT best practices.

A set of cards and stickers about Leave No Trace lie on a table.
Leave No Trace education materials.
Photo by Zoë Symon

In addition to expanding my own knowledge, I was thrilled to come away with a greater understanding for how to teach and persuade others to follow Leave No Trace best practices.

When educating or persuading others, it really comes down to the why. People are more likely to follow Leave No Trace practices when they understand the impact of their actions.

However, this comes with a huge caveat: an authoritative stance and tone will not help you. Finding common ground and approaching the issue with positivity can influence long-term change in behaviors. In turn, this creates a lasting impact and cultivating intrinsically motivated stewards of the land.

Almost all park or trail visitors want to take care of the land and want to be a part of the solution.

Day 2

Day two of the event opened with a keynote speech by Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. She discussed issues of diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. This set the tone for a major theme of the next few days of talks.

While we were all there to celebrate the work of the past 50 years, it is also important to address issues and conversations that still lie ahead.

To date, public lands recreation and management has been done by a largely homogenous group of people. Dr. Finney opened the door for ongoing conversations about how to engage people from more diverse backgrounds with the outdoors and especially with public lands.

A conference program and a coffee mug sit on a white table.
Reading the program for Day 2.
Photo by Zoë Symon

After Dr. Finney’s opening talk, I attended another session about diversity and inclusion. A panel of speakers from the Next 100 Coalition engaged audience members in a discussion about how to begin doing the hard work of bringing diverse perspectives into the conversation.

The discussion covered many topics, but often came back to the idea of stories and narrative. If we, as an entire community, can accept, embrace, and listen to stories from a variety of perspectives, we can discover our shared narrative and common values and start from there.

After the panel, I attended two talks about using technology to help manage outdoor spaces. Specifically, using GIS. The first talk discussed the gaps in adoption of GIS technology among management agencies and conservation groups. The difference in size, funding, and capability of organizations has a huge impact on their ability to implement GIS technology effectively to help manage their piece of public land.

The second talk dealt with using GIS technology. This technology can help create better tools and materials for conservation organizations and the general public. They discussed the use of ArcGIS Online to create a robust database of trail data. This enables individual organizations to more effectively create and share materials, including interactive Story Maps.

The fourth talk of the day was centered around arts on public lands. Arts on National Trails and in National Parks can help engage the community. Artist in Residence programs can help provide opportunities for artists. The last talk of the day discussed technology on the trail and gave advice for using technology to promote National Trails.

In the evening, I attended a film screening for a variety of films about public lands, trails, and wild rivers. They were thought provoking, inspiring, and beautiful!

Day 3

The third day of the symposium was devoted to day-long field trips. The one I chose to attend was Enduring Stories of Tribal Survivance & Collaboration Along the Columbia River.

This session focused on telling stories of native peoples. These stories that have largely been left out of the mainstream narrative of parks and other locations along the Columbia River. This field trip was hosted by the Confluence Project, a group dedicated to telling these stories.

a wooden gate at Fort Vancouver is open to a garden beyond.
Inside Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Photo by Zoë Symon

Our first stop was to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Fort Vancouver was originally a main depot for the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was an early center of trade for settlers in the Pacific Northwest. Much of that trade occurred with the Chinook peoples who lived along the Columbia River.

There is a complicated history of diversity, land ownership, and land theft that occurred in this area. This complicated history is often not told from all perspectives.

A wooden archway with Native American art sits in the middle of a sidewalk.
The Welcome Gate on the Vancouver Land Bridge.
Photo by Zoë Symon

Near Fort Vancouver is the Vancouver Land Bridge. It is an earth-covered pedestrian bridge that arcs over State Route 14, reconnecting historic Fort Vancouver with the Columbia River. It was created as part of the Confluence Project.

Confluence describes the project like this:

“Learn about the site’s indigenous plants as you walk along the land bridge, which leads you up to a grand view of the river and the surrounding mountains. From the south, walk under the land bridge’s Welcome Gate, designed by Native American artist Lillian Pitt. Two cedar canoe panels, each adorned with a cast-glass sculpture of a Chinook woman’s face, evoke the site’s role as a historic tribal crossroads as well as a point of contact between European and Native people.”

We spoke with Lillian and learned about her people’s history (as well as other Native tribes) with the Columbia River. Afterwards, we traveled to the Sandy River Delta to visit Maya Lin’s Bird Blind.

A wooden bird blind shows the common and scientific names of animals in the area.
A section of Maya Lin’s Bird Blind.
Photo by Zoë Symon

The Bird Blind is a historical record of creatures seen and described by Lewis and Clark. It also acts as a commentary on the environmental destruction that has occurred in the area.

“The vertical wooden slats of the bird blind are inscribed with the name and current status of each of the 134 species Lewis and Clark noted on their westward journey.” (Confluence Project)

Through the efforts of multiple groups, the area around the Sandy River Delta is being restored.

Day 4

Continuing with the theme of diversity, inclusion, and engagement in the outdoors, the opening morning of the 4th day featured two speakers. Marya Skotte from the National Park Foundation discussed a new initiative created to help management agencies and conservation organizations better engage with the communities they serve.

Nicole Browning from REI discussed the company’s approach to equity in the outdoors, specifically focusing on the recent Force of Nature campaign to, among other things, increase the representation and voice that women have when it comes to being in and protecting our outdoor spaces.

The first talk of the day focused on ways to establish, defend, and define the trail corridor for National Scenic and Historic Trails. The speaker, from the BLM office managing the Iditarod National Historic Trail, offered advice for organizations on how to balance protection of the natural space with engagement in recreation opportunities. He also discussed using surveying techniques to determine and protect viewsheds and other features of the natural space.

Two members of the National Park Service gave the second talk of the day, and focused on the innovative ways that the Overmountain Victory National Scenic Trail has created and maintained local partnerships to secure the centerline and trail corridor through Federal, State, and Private Lands.

Their work is ongoing, but has so far been successful and beneficial. Other trail management agencies can adopt the techniques they use for outreach. Agencies facing similar challenges from private landowner and state agency partnerships might especially find these strategies helpful.

The final session of the day focused on the Arizona Trail Association’s innovative approach to training and inspiring trail maintainers. Their goal, to have the best trained volunteer force, is helped by their incredible partnership with American Conservation Experience, an organization that helps them organize in-depth training sessions for their community of Trail Stewards on the Arizona Trail. They have called this the Trail Skills Institute.

In particular, they address the challenges with maintaining a trail that traverses a variety of different landscapes including desert. Different landscapes require different techniques, and the ATA works closely with ACE to develop intensive training programs. These have been wildly popular—a good problem to have.

The closing keynote was an eloquent and moving event with author Philip Connors, author of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout and A Song for the River.


My experience at Pathways to the Future was inspiring, motivating, and challenging. It left me excited to do what I can. I hope to help to bring new ideas and energy to the stories around public lands, recreation, and the environment.

Links and Resources

Partnership for the National Trails System

50th Anniversary National Trails System

River Management Society

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Next 100 Coalition

The Confluence Project

National Park Foundation

REI: Force of Nature

Arizona Trail Association: Trail Skills Institute

American Conservation Experience

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About the Author
A smiling woman wearing a rain jacket and a backpack stands next to a tree.

Zoë Symon

Zoë grew up in North Carolina and first heard of the Appalachian Trail during her time in college. In 2016, she took a leave of absence from her job and thru-hiked the trail. This adventure fostered her love for the outdoors and for hiking. Currently, she explores the public lands of Oregon. In 2017 she joined the team at Atlas Guides as Creative Director. She spends her days improving experiences for all our users.