Last year, Princeville, N.C., was nearly destroyed by floods. This Saturday, much of the devastation behind them, community leaders will break ground for the Princeville, N.C., Heritage Trail. When complete, the trail will provide not only a new center of recreation, it will also commemorate the historical significance of the oldest city in this country to have been chartered by African Americans.
Saturday marks the 10th annual National Trails Day, an opportunity to celebrate Princeville's Heritage Trail, as well as 499 other trails that will become officially designated Millennium Trails -- trails that offer users a journey of discovery into their history and culture, while preserving and enhancing a precious part of their national heritage for future generations to treasure and enjoy.
From the earliest paths blazed by our ancestors, to the latest efforts at converting abandoned rail routes for community use, trails are a vital piece of our nation's landscape and history.
More than a thousand years ago, the 68-mile Unicoi Turnpike carried the Cherokee people through the Smoky Mountains to the hills of East Tennessee. In post-Revolutionary times, this scenic trail provided similar passage for European settlers. Today, it carries visitors into remote trailside communities that still reflect the region's ancient heritage.
Boston's Freedom Trail offers users a picture of America's Revolutionary history. Hikers can visit 15 sites, including Faneuil Hall, where plans were laid for the Boston Tea Party, and the Old North Church, where lanterns shining from the steeple alerted a waiting Paul Revere to the approach of British troops.
The 75-year-old Appalachian Trail, the longest natural public thoroughfare in the world, stretches along a 2,160-mile path from Maine to Georgia. Protected from development, the Appalachian Trail was the catalyst for passage in 1968 of the National Trails System Act.
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail commemorates the expedition of the famed explorers who traveled 3,700 miles from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River, opening the continent to European settlement. For African Americans whose ancestors toiled in slavery, the Underground Railroad Trail honors those brave Americans who, by resisting slavery, changed the course of history.
The International Express Trail brings to life another part of America's history. Following the route of New York City's No. 7 subway line through a series of colorful, ethnic neighborhoods, this trail offers a different view of the immigrant experience.
Planners of the American Discovery Trail envision connecting existing trails, canal towpaths, forest lanes and country roads in a continuous line that stretches over 6,350 miles, linking East with West, and our past with our future. Trails such as these tell not only the story of our nation's past, they also offer a positive vision of the future. This is precisely the vision the President and I hoped to bring to this year's celebration of the new millennium, and the reason we created the Millennium Trails initiative. A public-private partnership, the Millennium Trails project operates under the leadership of the White House Millennium Council, the Department of Transportation and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Park Service, the American Hiking Society, and a committed group of other agencies, community groups and private companies.
A year ago, on National Trails Day, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, without whose unflagging support this initiative would not have been such a success, joined me for the designation of 16 National Millennium Trails. These unique byways, which include the trails I've just described, celebrate our rich history and culture, and symbolize the diversity, complexity and grandeur of our trail system.
Last October, Secretary Slater and I named 50 Millennium Legacy Trails. Nominated by state governors, these regional trails represent the spirit of our nation's states and territories. One of the 50, the Southeast Michigan Greenways Trail connects the 4.5 million residents of this heavily industrialized, sprawling metropolitan area with the protected natural areas of the region.
Finally, on Saturday, June 3 -- National Trails Day -- we will celebrate the designation of 500 Community Millennium Trails -- neighborhood trails, like Princeville's, that carve a path through urban and rural areas, allowing users to walk or bike to work or school, while reintroducing and reconnecting them to their community and the natural landscape where they live.
The vision of the Millennium Trails project is a trail within reach of every home -- a trail that makes it possible for all Americans to understand their history, appreciate nature, and enjoy themselves in the outdoors.
This Saturday, I hope you'll take the opportunity to visit a trail near you. You'll find that trails do more than protect our environment and offer new ways to commute. Trails stitch a design in our landscape, creating a picture of America -- now, and for generations to come.
If you'd like to learn more about the Millennium Trails project, visit our web site at www.millenniumtrails.org.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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