American Discovery Trail
General Information & Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the American Discovery Trail?
- What is the National Trails System?
- How does the ADT fit into the National Trails System?
- Why should the NTSA be amended to add another trail category?
- Where is the ADT?
- Who has led the development of the ADT?
- How was the route of the ADT determined, and by whom?
- Who has funded the development of the ADT?
- Who will manage and maintain the ADT when it is complete? Who will use the ADT? Getting started on the ADT ADT State Coordinators
The American Discovery Trail (ADT) is a project administered by the American Discovery Trail Society (ADTS) to develop our nation's first coast-to-coast multi-use hiking trail. It connects people to large cities, small towns and urban areas, and to mountains, forests, deserts and natural areas by incorporating local, regional and national trails together. Although the trail has been mapped across America, it is still being developed and is in the process of being authorized as part of the National Trails System.
The National Trails System Act (NTSA) was enacted by federal legislation in 1968 as a framework for a national system of connected scenic, historic and recreational trails. Today, there are eight National Scenic Trails, which are protected scenic corridors for outdoor recreation located primarily in the backcountry; 11 National Historic Trails, which recognize prominent routes of exploration, migration, commerce, and military actions; and over 800 National Recreational Trails, shorter trails which vary in length, terrain, difficulty and accessibility and are managed by public and private agencies at the local, state and national levels.
The American Discovery Trail is being proposed as the first of a new category of long-distance trails that will give equal recognition to the significance of urban and metropolitan trails that have developed mostly over the past 25 years, and to backcountry trails. This new category would recognize that using and enjoying trails is close to home is equally as important as traversing remote wilderness trails. The ADT would connect five of the National Scenic Trails, 10 of the National Historic Trails, 23 of the National Recreational Trails, and many other local and regional trails. Until now, the element that has been missing in order to create a national system of "connected" trails is that the existing rails for the most part are not connected.
The ADT is a trail of national significance not only because of its length, but because it fits the goals of the 1990 Trails for All Americans Report, which envisions trails which will serve all Americans, connect the people and places of the nation, provide diverse experiences while respecting the natural and built environments, and be built through creative partnerships. The ADT combines the qualities of national scenic, historic and recreational trails, but its real strength is that it provides connections. Connections between trails, between cities and the backcountry, and between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The American Discovery Trail begins (or ends) with your feet in the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. From there, it traverses California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado, where in Denver it splits into two routes. The Northern Midwest route travels through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. The Southern Midwest route explores Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. After rejoining just west of Cincinnati, the route continues through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC and Delaware, where the ADT ends (or begins) with your feet in the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Henlopen State Park.
In 1989, the American Hiking Society (AHS) and Backpacker magazine created the idea of a coast-to-coast trail that would be the backbone of the National Trails system. AHS hired a national coordinator, who since 1991 has worked through volunteer state coordinators to develop and refine the route. The ADT is currently administered by the American Discovery Trail Society.
The route of the ADT was selected through the efforts of citizens working with local, state and federal land managers in the localities through which the trail passes. In 1990-91, a scouting team mapped the route determined by this citizen effort. There is a volunteer coordinator in each ADT state who leads the ongoing effort to refine the route, incorporate new trails into the route and to promote and sign the trail in their respective state.
The development of the ADT has been funded by the members of the American Hiking Society and the American Discovery Trail Society, and through the financial and promotional support of suppliers and retailers in the outdoor equipment industry. The various land managing agencies and local and regional trail organizations have made significant contributions through their expertise and knowledge of the trails that make up the ADT.
The American Discovery Trail Society, a nationwide non-profit membership organization, has been established specifically for the purpose of administering the affairs of the ADT, and to coordinate the efforts of the many local trail organizations who will have the responsibility of maintaining the ADT.
Long-distance trails are used mostly by people living close to the trail and by weekenders. Backpacking excursions are normally a few days to a couple of weeks. For example, of the estimated four million users of the Appalachian Trail each year, only about 100-150 walk the entire trail. This will be true of the ADT as well, especially because of its proximity to urban trails where use will be the highest.
- National Coordinator