April, 2015 – The Complete America’s Great Trails Act (H.R. 781) is a bill which would provide property owners with tax incentives to provide easements along National Scenic Trails in an effort to close existing gaps. This piece of legislation was introduced by Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA) in early 2015 during the commencement of the 114th Congress.
While the National Trails System Act has now been the law of the land for nearly 50 years, most of the National Scenic Trails Congress has authorized have yet to be completed and each of the 11 trails still have some portion on private land. By allowing property owners to elect to donate a conservation easement, many of these trails could benefit by protecting trail corridors in perpetuity while allowing a tax benefit to the generous provider of the easement.
Even for trails that are largely complete, sections that cross privately held land can be a hazard to long term planning and management and unforeseen circumstances can lead to closures. Some trails also have sections that just don’t exist yet and hikers are forced onto busy roads to get from one section to the next. This isn’t just inconvenient – it’s unsafe.
And to be clear – not a single land owner would ever be forced to giving up land. This program would simply allow those who choose to do so to take advantage of the tax benefit that such an easement would provide.
So let’s finish the job that was started decades ago – let’s complete these wonderful trails so that all may enjoy them today and for generations to come. Check out the bill’s sponsors and if your congressman is not on the list, email his or her office and ask them to co-sponsor this common sense approach to land management and trail protection.
See a sample letter that you may use, although we strongly encourage you to personalize it some – let him or her know why hiking and trails are meaningful to you. Read the Dear Colleague letter from Rep. Connolly to his House colleagues inviting them to co-sponsor this legislation.