3,000 Mile Trek Showcases American Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, August 1, 2002 (ENS) - Two teams set out this week on separate journeys across America's public lands to highlight the importance of the nation's natural places. The teams, which include a firefighter, two teachers, outdoor enthusiasts, a reporter, registered nurse, and a retired Marine, will also educate communities and students along the way about volunteerism and public service.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton joined National Geographic Society CEO and president John Fahey and other partners on Wednesday to launch American Frontiers: A Public Lands Journey. The two month long journey is the first trek ever made entirely on U.S. public lands.


The northern team started their trek on Wednesday in Glacier National Park, near the Canadian border. (Photo courtesy Glacier National Park)
"The participants on this journey are volunteers and public servants who are embarking on a unique adventure to tell an important American story," said Veneman. "This nation's public lands offer many opportunities in terms of education and natural beauty. Through this partnership, we hope to inspire more visitors to our national forests and parks."

The trek involves two teams of adventurers - one starting at the Canadian border in Montana and the other at the Mexican border in New Mexico. Both teams are scheduled to meet on September 28th - National Public Lands Day - at This is the Place State Park in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The teams will cover almost 3,000 miles, crossing six states and 14 national forests, by foot, horseback, mountain bike, canoe, sport utility vehicle and boat. Their story will be shared along the way by videophones and through an interactive website located at: http://www.americanfrontiers.net

Along the way, the trekkers will visit local communities and schools to offer educational programs about public lands. A series of regional events and classroom discussions with students will take place in select communities throughout the trek, which will also highlight the importance of volunteerism and public service.

"The volunteer participants in this trek exemplify the spirit of adventure and the commitment to service that have made this country so great," said Norton. "Through their journey, we hope to highlight the vastness and beauty of our public lands which exist in every state and cover one-third of our nation's surface."

Grand Canyon

The southern team will travel down part of the Grand Canyon by raft. (Three photos courtesy National Park Service)
At 7 am Wednesday morning, the northern team set off in a four wheel drive truck, driving to a trailhead to begin a three day backcountry expedition in Glacier National Park. The southern team hiked two miles to the Mexican border to begin a drive north through the low, arid hills of southern New Mexico, to Massacre Peak, an area managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Later, the trek will take the northern team by boat, horseback and overland hike through the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Lewis and Clark National Forest, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Bridger National Forest, Fossil Butte National Monument, and by canoe into Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, among other public lands.

The southern team will hike and bike across BLM lands into the Gila, Apache, Sitgreaves and Coconino National Forests in New Mexico and Arizona, raft through Grand Canyon National Park, take a houseboat through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell, and hike and drive through Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Conceived and planned by the Public Lands Interpretive Association, the Public Lands Journey is being sponsored by a combination of public and private partners, including the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, National Geographic Society, American Honda, and others, in order to educate Americans about the importance and majesty of the nation's public lands and waters.

Fossil Butte

The northern team will cross Fossil Butte National Monument using all terrain vehicles.
"These lands provide important benefits to all of us, from wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation to minerals, food and fiber, as well as mental and spiritual renewal," said Lisa Madsen, executive director of the Public Lands Interpretive Association. "Most importantly, they are available for all of us to enjoy, if we care for them properly as good stewards."

Public lands protect ecosystems, helping to provide clean air, water and open space. They also play a role in the nation's defense, Norton noted, by providing resources such as coal, gas, oil, grazing forage and timber.

Norton and Veneman said the trek supports two initiatives launched by President George W. Bush - the USA Freedom Corps and the Healthier US Initiative. The President's Healthier US Initiative highlights the health benefits of simple physical activities, and better nutrition.

The USA Freedom Corps works with service agencies in government and the nonprofit sector to provide Americans with incentives and opportunities for public service both at home and abroad.

"More than 200,000 volunteers work on lands managed by the Department of the Interior and outnumber Interior employees three to one," said Norton. "We could not manage our lands or welcome our visitors as effectively without them. The more people we have volunteering, the more we can do."

Lake Powell

The southern team will cross Lake Powell by houseboat.
The trek is the first project of American Frontiers, a new public awareness campaign designed to educate Americans about the history, value and role of public lands through educational products and activities. Besides the two month trek, the program will focus attention on public lands through Geography Action! 2002: America's Backyard, an educational program of the National Geographic Society.

To follow the trek online, visit: http://www.americanfrontiers.net

More information about enjoying and protecting public lands is available at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/geographyaction

More information on the USA Freedom Corps is available at: http://www.freedomcorps.gov

More information about the Healther US Initiative is available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/fitness