Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails Act

As we enter the celebratory 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act year, OCTA is poised to take advantage of myriad opportunities to expand our reach and bring our cause to the mainstream. We are putting into place new tools and events designed to get crowds to you, our chapters and members, so that you can showcase the trails in your region.

There are many thanks to go around for setting OCTA up in such grand fashion. First and foremost, our long-time supporter the Malcolm E. Smith, Jr. Inc. Foundation stepped up to the plate this past autumn with two gifts to ensure that OCTA launches a fresh new website early in the new year and create a new regional brochure (with an online edition as well!). The Foundation provided $12,500 for these two programs. The new website will be out in draft form for review amongst our leadership early in 2018, with a scheduled launch date shortly thereafter. The brochure program will touch upon each of our chapters individually and will feature a map with your key trail resources and a membership application page. The brochure information will also be included on our new website. These tools will be especially important as our chapters get out to celebrate both the National Trails Act anniversary and the 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail.

One of our brightest opportunities will be the American Solar Challenge. College teams from around the world will race their solar-powered cars along our trail corridor, launching from Omaha on July 14 and finishing up in Bend, Oregon on July 22. There will be countless stops along the way and the National Office of OCTA will support each chapter along the way so that we have a presence at each stop. Watch for more timely information in E-News, on our Facebook page, and on our website. You can also stay abreast of developments at www.americansolarchallenge.org.

There is also word of a wagon train coming together that will trek from Ogallala, Nebraska to Fort Hall, Idaho. The planned launch date is mid-May, finishing up in late June. Again, we are looking to partner on this opportunity and had hoped to have more information by press time. But do make tentative plans to get out and support this wagon train in late spring 2018. More details will follow as plans come together.

Finally, we are excited to announce that the Partnership for the National Trails System recently awarded OCTA a $10,000 grant for a new intern who will work with the city of St. Joseph, Missouri and our Gateway Chapter to assist in creating amazing new trail resources in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas. The grant was funded by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, and the city of St. Joseph matched this amount with $11,700 of in-kind support. Once hired, the intern will work out of the city planner’s office in St. Joseph City Hall.

St. Joseph is poised to make a great leap forward in the development of its trail resources, and the city is partnering with their Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Pony Express National Museum to launch a new non-profit that will steer trail development in the downtown area and along their riverfront. As many of you know, St. Joseph’s riverfront is blocked by the double-decker I-229 bridge, but there is talk of replacing it with an at-grade highway that could potentially open the riverfront to new development and increased access.

The city also has millions of dollars in reserve for the development of a new convention center and hotel, and city leaders are looking at repurposing the beautiful downtown Commerce Bank building, perhaps as a transportation museum that would feature trails, rails, and early highways and serve as an anchor for the overall project. Our intern will work with the city planning department to also consider new indoor and outdoor recreational and sporting opportunities to draw families year-round to the region.

Our intern will also be tasked with finishing the auto tour route sign plan for St. Joseph and northeast Kansas, marking both the St. Joe Road and the Pony Express trail. The intern will research historic properties in the area between the Pony Express National Museum and the riverfront to develop a walking tour of St. Joseph that will include new interpretation in the form of wayside exhibits, brochures, and downloadable apps. We are also excited for our intern to work with the city on planning and promoting a future National Park Service charrette to help St. Joseph better capitalize on its unique historic trails resources and assisting our Gateway Chapter in finding new members to help implement these new projects.

Our Gateway Chapter, the city, and our intern will also work to obtain the wagons currently in storage at the St. Joseph Parks Department to be utilized in the development of for-credit courses via Missouri Western State University that will showcase historically-accurate depictions of 19th century trail life at the Whistle Creek Livestock Preserve, located a few miles outside of St. Joseph. We would also like our intern to outreach to surrounding communities and counties in both Missouri and Kansas, Missouri Western State University, local historic organizations, the National Pony Express Association, the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail Foundation, and the National Park Service’s Lewis & Clark office in Omaha to include them in the above planning processes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for things to come in 2018. Watch our E-News, Facebook page, and website to learn more about these and other forthcoming programs, because we plan to celebrate our dual anniversaries of the National Trails Act and Oregon Trail in grand fashion!