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The call of the trail: Idaho beauty

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The influence of fine scenery, the presence of mountains, appeases our irritations and elevates our friendships.” Fortunately, in Idaho, we have many opportunities to benefit from fine scenery and reflect on historical, nation-shaping events that took place along Idaho’s trails. 

For example, Idaho’s section of the Lewis and Clark National Trail stretches across North-Central Idaho from Lolo Pass to Lewiston. A number of historic sites and trails can be accessed along it. According to information provided by the Idaho Secretary of State, a visitor seeking the true Lewis and Clark experience can hike a five-mile trail up a ridgeline in the Whitehouse Pond area. Additionally, the Oregon and California national historic trails, which generally track the Snake River through southern Idaho, were utilized by miners and farmers heading to California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches from Wallowa Lake, Oregon to the Bear Paws Mountains in northern Montana and crosses through Idaho as it follows the course taken by a group of Nez Perce in 1877 and the U.S. military, who pursued them more than 1,500 miles for three and a half months. 

These examples are a small fraction of Idaho’s abundant outdoor recreation opportunities that make our great state a desirable place to live and raise a family. Bicycling, walking and running trails contribute to our quality of life and support economic development throughout the state. The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that total earnings per resident in counties with recreation are higher than in other rural counties. Additionally, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that spending time outdoors has physical and mental health benefits and identified five specific potential benefits: increased vitamin D levels; more exercise; elevated moods; improved concentration; and faster healing potential. Our trails provide these opportunities and more.

Our access to these resources would be limited without the help of the many volunteers who clear the trails and prepare them for users. Volunteers provide critical help in maintaining the trails so that they are safe and accessible. A number of organizations, such as the Northwest Youth Corps, the Back Country Horsemen of Idaho and the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, assist with conservation and maintenance projects, including trail construction, clearing hazardous forest fuels and enhancing wildlife habitat. These Idahoans help enable our access to the outdoor recreation opportunities that we enjoy.

At the federal level, the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) enhances outdoor opportunities by helping states develop and maintain recreational trails for motorized and non-motorized trail uses. Common trail usage includes hiking, running, bicycling, equestrian use, snowmobiling, four-wheel driving, all-terrain riding and other off-road vehicle use. The program has proven popular in many communities to enhance public access and use of public lands. Recently, I worked with my Senate colleagues to maintain the RTP in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s recently approved highway reauthorization bill. As Congress continues its work this summer on addressing our nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs, I will continue to advocate for this important program.

Throughout Idaho, there are many opportunities to take to the trail for recreation, fitness, exploration, a walk through history, views of Idaho’s scenery and wildlife and to get inspiration. These outlets are an important part of our communities and way of life. I will continue to work with Idahoans, my colleagues in Congress, and federal, state and local agencies to develop and execute effective and efficient land management policies that protect the environment and provide adequate and safe access to our public lands.

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