Happy Trails For You and Me
State agencies come together for the Continental Divide
While a continental divide is simply the separation of watersheds where water goes toward one body of water or another, in America, the Continental Divide is where rivers and streams either flow east toward the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean, or west toward the Pacific. It's the backbone of North America, a dividing line that strikes the imagination with the spirit of exploration and the sublimity of our natural world.
In the U.S., the Continental Divide travels 3,100 miles from north to south through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The larger divide stretches from Alaska, winds though western Canada, enters the United States at the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, goes on into Mexico, down into Central America and finally extends through South America, all the way to Patagonia. A trail that more or less follows the divide in the United States was established as a National Scenic Trail by Congress in 1978, but it is only 65 percent complete.
"The goal is to build a 100 percent non-motorized hiking and horseback trail that basically captures all of the nationally significant scenic, cultural and historical features that make the Rocky Mountain West special," says Brian Martin, field operations manager at the Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), the primary nongovernmental partner in the project to complete the trail. He says that in its completion, the trail will protect the places it encompasses in perpetuity. On Monday, April 9, several parties in New Mexico signed an agreement establishing cooperation in efforts to complete and preserve the trail. Those parties include the Bureau of Land Management; Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources; the Forest Service; Acoma Tribe; the National Park Service; and the New Mexico Land Office. These entities will work in tandem with the CDTA to locate gaps in the trail, implement the trail and find funding and support.
Commissioner of Public Lands Patrick H. Lyons says the agreement was nonpartisan and that everyone was on the same page. "We're just happy to be working with all the agencies to create a good trail and bring tourism here."
Martin says that while the 740-mile New Mexican portion of the trail is 41 to 44 percent finished, the least complete of the five states, New Mexico has the most momentum. "We have a goal to complete the trail by 2014, but that's really dependent on the continuing funding streams and even expanding upon those funding streams and recruiting many more volunteers. It's ambitious, but it's something we feel like we can achieve, particularly as more and more Americans continue to seek these kinds of experiences out in nature."