National Trails Day – More than just a day

National Trails Day was this past Saturday.

For active outdoors people, a day put aside to reflect on trails is probably not needed.

We are outdoors whenever we have a chance.  A “trails day” takes up the bulk of our free time.

Some cynics would say it is a made up day to drum up commerce for outdoor retail companies.


Being on my electronic leash this past weekend, I could not perform trail work as I like to do on this day.

But it does mean I could do something locally.

I went to the local open space.  And I enjoyed the views from the plains, to the foothills, to the continental divide.

Rangers were giving talks, people were walking and biking along the trails, and some hotdogs and hamburgers were enjoyed.

All while outside on the sunny June day.

People love the outdoors.  It is just on different terms than how some of us think.

A book I recently read brought up this point: The urban and suburban spaces (local parks, trails, and similar even in our National Parks) are what people seem to prefer overwhelmingly.

Something more approachable, easier to access, and less wild.   And trails are how people access the outdoors.

Theoretically, most people love the wild places.   But I think the truly wild places is not something people necessarily gravitate towards.

Consider Thoreau.  One of the revered saints in our modern outdoors movement.

When he left the genteel rural area near Concord to the truly wild place of 1840s Maine, he had an emotional epiphany: 

This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandseled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor wasteland…Man was not to be associated with it. It was Matter, vast, terrific…rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact!

The truly wild places do not fit into most people’s narrative of the outdoors.

But is that a bad thing?  

I don’t think so. At least to a certain extent. There has to be some appreciation of the outdoors on some level for any future advocates.

How we use and understand the wilderness experience is constantly evolving.

Something such as National Trails Day reflects this trend.

The outdoors as an event that fits in with the daily life: Get some talks in, do some local trail work, have a burger.

A local walk or bike ride is outdoors enough when so much of our lives are busy with other concerns.

A day to reflect on our local and accessible trails is a good thing.

However, we also need a National Wildness Day.  If not officially, then in our thoughts, words, and actions.

A day to celebrate the wild places that aren’t as easily accessible. Where maybe trails don’t go.

We need the wild places.

Places to inspire, celebrate, make us reach new heights – both figuratively and literally.

Trails are nice. And local open spaces or even national parks accessible to all are needed.  The outdoors can’t be protected without champions who recreate in these outdoor spaces.

But when I think of the outdoors, I do not think of the trails but rather the places they go through.

I think of a quotation by Ray Jardine in particular:

We celebrate not the trail, but the wild places it passes through

We should acknowledge the importance of trails. Trails are the conduit for people accessing the wild places in many ways. Be it local or further afield.

But celebrating and advocating for the wild lands themselves, being it local wetlands on the plains or a remote place in Utah, are what is important.

Without the wild places that we protect and cherish, a National Trails Day would have less meaning.

Celebrate the trails on a day.  But protect and advocate for the wild places always.

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Rich Glasgow
Rich Glasgow
6 years ago

Well said. I’d also like to leave this here: I credit you and your cronies from the Trail Show for getting me into trail work. A few years back I started listening to the podcast. All of the people on the show, but especially you, convinced me to take the next step from contributing a little money and start doing trail work. Soon my wife and I were hooked and we adopted a section of the North Country Trail in the Allegheny National forest. Now we still have that adopted section, and we supervise 25 miles of trail. Through trail… Read more »