Coast to coast: First transcontinental walking route completed from Atlantic to Pacific

Posted: Friday, September 29, 2000

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Hikers who step onto the American Discovery Trail in Nevada's capital city must decide how ambitious they are: It's a relatively short trip west to the Pacific Ocean -- or a long, long journey east to the Atlantic coast.

Either way, they'll see a lot of America on the nation's first coast-to-coast trail -- hiking 399 miles through the Sierra to Point Reyes National Seashore in California, or 5,957 miles to Delaware's Cape Henlopen State Park.

''This is our first transcontinental trail,'' says Dale Ryan, a Carson City resident and Nevada coordinator for the project. ''Most people probably won't ever walk all of the trail. But thanks to 10 years worth of work, they could if they wanted to.''

The Nevada portion of the trail ties together six state parks and one national park as it traverses 466 miles through the central part of the state. Most of the route in Nevada is on lands controlled by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Manage-ment.

The trail enters Nevada from the west just north of Lake Tahoe, and exits in the east near Baker. It takes the hiker through Virginia City and along many miles of the original Pony Express Trail.

The highest point of the trail in Nevada is 11,941-foot Mount Jefferson in the Toquima Range in the central part of the state.

''The trail in Nevada shows the diversity of the high desert and mountain ranges,'' Ryan said. ''There are some awesome views and a lot of solitude.''

The trail, the first of its kind to blend urban streetscapes in places like San Francisco and Chicago with rural sections crossing Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, was first envisioned more than two decades ago by hiking enthusiasts.

Years later, the trail, passing through 14 national parks and touching 10,000 sites of historic, cultural and natural significance, finally was completed.

Ed Spear, executive director of the White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board, said there are high hopes for a visitor boost from hikers and bicyclists traveling the trail.

Two state parks intersected by the trail, Cave Lake and Ward Charcoal Ovens, along with Great Basin National Park, also on the trail, are in White Pine County.

The trail parallels other projects officials hope will bring visitors to Central Nevada. A $55,000 study recently was completed by the Department of Tourism to explore tourism options in the Great Basin region. A scenic byway is being considered near Ely, and some Central Nevada residents are pushing an even wider Heritage Area that would run from Austin into western Utah.

Reese Lukei Jr., national coordinator of the American Discovery Trail Society, said the seeds for the trail were planted about 1980 with Project Hike a Nation. The project, he said, ''was created to point out the shortage of trails. We really needed an east-west trail corridor.''

The idea was picked up by Backpacker magazine and the American Hiking Society in 1989. The trail was first scouted in 1990-91 and has since been refined to incorporate new trail corridors. The work has been accomplished without any direct federal funding.

''We designed this trail to specifically visit towns and cities, not avoid them like most long-distance scenic trails, Lukei said. ''The idea is to establish trails closer to where people live. You may never hike it, but your community trails are attached to a trail that stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It stretches the boundaries of small communities.''

Lukei said one of his favorite parts of the trail is in Nevada, in the section incorporating the town of Ione and Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park.

''I think Ione's population totaled seven when I was there,'' he said.

''For a lot of people, Nevada means nothing but desert,'' Lukei said. ''But the trail takes you over 14 mountain ranges. There is a lot of history on the trail here, and it is very isolated.''

For now, hikers ambitious enough to contemplate the entire trail will find themselves frequently on their own. Not all of the trail is marked, and detailed maps are not yet finished for all sections.

Ryan said several stretches through Nevada, most notably from Fort Churchill to Berlin and from the Monitor Mountain Range to the Grant Range, don't have much water and few, if any, supply points.

Ryan and other trail buffs, along with federal and state officials, helped map out Nevada's portion of the route, which can be followed on foot, by bike or on horseback for most of the way. Some wilderness areas crossed by the trail don't allow bikes, but some bicyclists have used much of U.S. 50 to closely follow the route, he said.

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