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Bill calls for nationwide recreational trail system

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National recreational trails would get a boost under legislation introduced in the Senate. Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the National Discovery Trails Act of 2014 (S. 2346), which would allow creation of national discovery trails and officially designate the one existing coast-to-coast national recreational trail. The bill became available online on the congressional website on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. No other senator signed on as a cosponsor. The bill calls for officially designating as national discovery trails paths that go through at least two states. If they go through non-federal lands, the property owners would have to acquiesce.

The national trails should link cultural, natural, historic and recreational centers and provide recreational opportunities themselves. The bill also calls for officially designating the American Discovery Trail as the first such trail. This trail runs about 6,000 miles between Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California, including two possible routes between Kentucky and Colorado. But the bill would ban buying non-federal land to add to the trail.

Other trails that get the designation would have to link with other trails and be supported by volunteer organizations. States and communities should support the segments in their areas. Trails should be continuous and walkable. Volunteer groups could place directional signs for hikers and bikers.

The legislation says that within three years of any such designation, the responsible federal agency would have to develop a plan for each trail describing management of the plan an how it will coordinate with other land and resource owners. The plans would have to show how the efforts aren't impinging other uses of the trail.

Coons points out that the National Trails System, authorized in 1968, includes eight national scenic trails, 15 national historic trails, and more than 1,000 national recreational trails. But nothing links them together.

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