How the American Hiking Society Works

Benefits of the American Hiking Society

The American Hiking Society gears its activities toward increasing participation and enjoyment in hiking. Sometimes those activities revolve around getting people to walk in the woods or even on Capitol Hill.

One of the society's biggest events is National Trails Day, a trail awareness program established in 1993. The day centers on promoting hiking, as well as thanking volunteers, land agencies and businesses for their support. The inaugural National Trails Day attracted more than 1 million participants. Held annually, on the first Saturday in June, the society uses the occasion to inspire the public and trail enthusiasts to seek out their favorite trails and to participate in one of the more than 1,100 educational exhibits, workshops and trail work projects nationwide.

A National Trails Fund, established by American Hiking Society, awards grant money to organizations dedicated to building and improving hiking trails and inspiring volunteers to work for the long-term good of trails.

The American Hiking Society also hasn't been afraid to lobby lawmakers for its cause. One of the society's first steps in advocating for hikers was to defeat legislation calling for an excise tax on hiking equipment in 1976. Although the bill intended to collect funds for conservation, the American Hiking Society said that the tax was an unfair burden on hikers, since everyone who enjoyed the outdoors would benefit.

Since that 1976 victory, the group has lobbied for amendments to the National Trails System Act, which authorized a countrywide system of trails. The American Hiking Society also has pressed the government to designate new scenic trails, encourage volunteers and hiking clubs to build and maintain trails, and to establish what is now known as the rails-to-trails movement [source: Montorfano].

The society has also drummed up publicity and support by doing what it does best -- hiking. In 1978, founding members of the organization began to plan the 13-month HikeaNation, a coast-to-coast walk. Two years later, 36 people set out on the 4,500-mile (7,242-kilometer) journey. In spring 1981, a congressional delegation greeted the hikers on the steps of the U.S. Capitol [source: Kemsley, 2006].

HikeaNation was the inspiration for the creation of the American Discovery Trail, a coast-to-coast recreational trail for hiking, biking or riding horses. Along with Backpacker magazine, the American Hiking Society worked to obtain congressional designation as a national trail, before turning the effort over to the American Discovery Trail Society in 1996.

Other policy-setting efforts implemented by the American Hiking Society include an annual advocacy week called Hike-the-Hill, which brings trail leaders and volunteers to Washington, D.C., to lobby for funding and protection. Since 1996, thanks to the efforts of Hike-the Hill: Trails Advocacy Week, funding for the National Trails System has steadily increased [source: Montorfano].

The efforts of American Hiking Society have followed a long and winding footpath. Hike over to the next page for more links to outdoor adventures.

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More Great Links


  • Adventure Crossing, "American Hiking Society History Video."
  • American Hiking Society. (October 26, 2009)
  • Gluck, Pam. "The National Trails System: a grand experiment." American Trails Magazine. Vol. 37, no. 3. Page 6. Fall 2008.
  • Harnik, Peter. "History of the Rail-Trail Movement." Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 2007. (October 28, 2009)
  • Kemsley, Jr., William. "The Backpacker and Hikers Handbook." Stackpole Books. 2008.
  • Kemsley, Jr., William. "Three Decades of Protecting Our Nation's Trails." American Hiker. Page 4. Fall 2006.
  • King, Brian B. "Trail Years: A History of the Appalachian Trail Conference." Appalachian Trailway News, Special 75th Anniversary Issue. Special Commemorative Issue, July 2000.
  • Miller, Gregory A. "The Trail Ahead." American Hiker. Page 13. 2006.
  • Montorfano, Celina. "A History of Hiker Advocacy." American Hiker. Page 9. Fall 2006.