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On the Trail in the Inland Northwest

Jul 13 2016

Image: The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail runs 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Ocean. Here, the trail as it winds through Northeastern Washington.

By Courtney Pal
B.S., Earth Systems: Anthrosphere and B.A., Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Intern in Colville, Washington

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

The first time I set foot on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), I didn’t even realize I was on the trail. It was my second day on the job after arriving in Colville, Washington, a small town of 4,700 people in the northeastern corner of the state. A coworker from the Forest Service was taking me out to see a new land parcel that the Colville National Forest had just acquired. We were talking about the economics of land acquisition, driving down a muddy forest road, when he pulled out a map and looked at it quizzically: “You know, I think we’ve actually been on the PNT for the past twenty minutes,” he told me. The fact that the old road we were driving on just happened to also be part of America’s newest National Scenic Trail – and what had brought me to northeastern Washington – certainly surprised me. Excitedly, I stepped out of the rig to take a look around.

Not many people know about the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, but it’s a gem of the National Scenic Trails system. The trail stretches 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Ocean. While parts of the PNT have wilderness that rivals its fellow long-distance trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, what I love most about the trail is its deep history and culture.

Walking the PNT tells a story of the economic forces that have shaped the Pacific Northwest for the past few decades. The trail is not spared from view sheds that show the impact of clear cut timber harvest, and it isn’t unusual to meet some of the inhabitants of the grazing allotments that dot this National Forest. But what’s really special about the trail is the towns that it passes through: in the part where I’m working, that means the towns of Metaline Falls (pop. 200), Northport (pop. 300), and Republic (pop. 1000). These towns tell stories too, from the old-schoolhouse-turned-theatre in Metaline Falls, to the Wild West architecture on Main Street in Republic.

My work this summer focuses on connecting small businesses in these towns to the trail and the economic opportunities that it offers. My first step will be going door-to-door downtown to speak with business owners about the trail. I spent my first week here creating a “hiker friendly business guide” for just that purpose. Many people here don’t know about the trail or what hikers want to purchase while they’re in town, so I’m hopeful that this guide will start to raise awareness about this opportunity. After I have these one-on-one conversations, I’ll be hosting a community meeting in each of the trail towns to get feedback from the broader public about how they see the role of the trail in their community. I strongly believe that the future direction of the trail should lie in the hands of community members, and I’m planning these meetings to reflect that vision.

Next week, I’ll begin venturing out into the trail towns with my meticulously prepared materials and friendly pitches about the trial. For now, most of my work has been either in the office of the Tri-County Economic Development District, or out in the field with the Forest Service. I’ve been surprised at how easily I’ve been able to transition between these two very different agencies, but I’m loving every second of the interdisciplinary and connective work that I’m doing. I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer in this community.

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