One way to foster deeper connections with trails is through the lens of history. Learning about the people, places and events that have contributed to a landscape’s story is important for all of us.
On trails across the country, historic markers bring those stories to life. In Redmond, Washington, near the East Lake Sammamish Trail, explore a unique 1-mile stretch called the “Red Brick Road,” once part of the transcontinental Yellowstone Trail. In Crawford, Nebraska, make a stop along the White River Trail to learn about the legacy of the Black troops known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” serving in the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries. In New York's Hudson Valley Trail Network, enjoy breathtaking views at the Walkway Over The Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge and National Register-designated site.
According to The Historical Marker Database, there are more than 176,000 historic markers located throughout the United States. History is truly around every corner—and soon, there will be even more historic markers across the country dedicated to elevating the stories of people and places along the Great American Rail-Trail®, thanks to our partnership marker program with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. These markers will emphasize points of interest, well-known local residents, architecture and other features that reveal the nation’s dynamic, diverse and resilient history.
Maybe there’s already a marker or plaque located along the trails in your community. Do you ever stop to read them or take notice of their condition?
With Celebrate Trails Day right around the corner, trail users everywhere have a wonderful opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of their communities and beyond—on America’s trails!
Here are some tips for exploring trails through the lens of history:
- Locating and Exploring Historic Markers: Connect your trail experience with history by planning a marker tour. Before you go, visit The Historic Marker Database or our digital map to find markers in your area. What sites pique your interest? Where will the trail take you so that you can learn something new?
- Learning More About Your Local History: Historic markers provide an excellent starting point for uncovering local history. One of the key benefits of historic markers is their ability to help educate the public. A marker along a trail might just be the prompt for visiting your local museum or library for more in-depth information!
- Take Stock of Ways You Can Help Out: Over time, contaminants such as dust, sap and road salt can build up and cause historical markers to deteriorate. That’s why regularly cleaning markers is important; it helps to keep them in good condition so they can be enjoyed now and by future generations. As you’re on the trail, exploring history, take note of any markers that could benefit from cleaning. That’s the perfect place to start on National Historic Marker Day, which follows closely behind Celebrate Trails Day on the last Friday in April.
After all, rail-trails are more than just corridors! They are spaces where we can draw deep connections to America’s diverse past and cultural history.
Related: A Path Toward Healing
Save the Date: National Historic Marker Day
With markers in need of maintenance, that’s where National Historic Marker Day comes in. Each year on the last Friday in April, following closely behind Celebrate Trails Day, volunteers go out into their communities to clean markers and learn about history. The third annual National Historic Marker Day celebration will take place on Friday, April 28. From families and student groups to bicycle clubs, everyone is welcome to participate.
Interested in volunteering? Register yourself or a team online at wgpfoundation.org. Official registrants will receive National Historic Marker Day stickers, as well as a branded cleaning cloth and brush. Items are limited, so sign up while supplies last! We also offer a free online volunteer kit that includes resources for National Historic Marker Day. The kit is available for download online. Last, but not least, take plenty of photos when you volunteer, and share them on social media using the hashtag #NationalHistoricMarkerDay.
Join us on April 28! For more details about volunteering, visit the official National Historic Marker Day website.