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Our Story

Established in 1956, the Keystone Trails Association has been working to protect and promote Pennsylvania’s hiking trails for 60 years. Over time, the Keystone Trails Association has continued to grow and expand its advocacy efforts and trail programs. Today, the Keystone Trails Association has firmly established itself as a force and voice for hikers throughout the commonwealth.

In the beginning, the Keystone Trails Association was formed as a coalition of local trail clubs that maintained the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. The local trail clubs wanted to cooperate on projects like publishing an Appalachian Trail guide to Pennsylvania and building a series of shelters along the trail. Early efforts included the publication of Pennsylvania Hiking Trails - now in its 13th edition - and launching a hiking awards program.

Growing statewide concerns for Pennsylvania’s other long distance hiking trails soon encouraged the Keystone Trails Association to expand its focus beyond the Appalachian Trail. In 1978, the Keystone Trails Association incorporated and also applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status, which was approved in 1981. New member services were soon offered and additional focus was directed to advocacy issues. More support was also provided for trails on the ground. The Keystone Trails Association was now in a position to serve as an umbrella group for trail clubs across the state as well as a growing number of individual members.

In 1999, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) named the Keystone Trails Association “Conservation Volunteer Group of the Year” in recognition of many years of work on hiking trails in the Sproul State Forest. Continue reading to learn more about how the Keystone Trails Association works to protect and promote hiking trails throughout Pennsylvania:



Accomplishments Print

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

TRAIL STEWARDSHIP: The Keystone Trails Association offers a robust trail care program with volunteer opportunities available on trails across the state. Beginning in 1984, the Trail Care Program was created to lend a hand to local trail clubs wherever there was exceptional need for a trail crew. That summer an eight-week work program kicked off the first trail care season in what would become one of the Keystone Trails Association’s most successful initiatives.

Today the Keystone Trails Association offers many opportunities for volunteers to do their part in maintaining Pennsylvania’s hiking trails, including Code Orange trail care days, Trail Care weekends and weeklong Summer Trail Crews. Our trail work program contributes 4,000 volunteer hours annually, while Keystone Trails Association member clubs contribute an additional 35,000 volunteer hours each year.

Highlights:

  • In 1973, the Tuscarora Trail in south central Pennsylvania becomes the first trail created entirely under the auspices of the Keystone Trails Association.
  • The Keystone Trails Association supported the creation of the Standing Stone Trail and the Save Our Steps (SOS) campaign to preserve the 1,000 Steps. KTA pledged to raise $90,000 to purchase property on Jack's Mountain near Mt. Union. In 1999, hikers celebrated the successful completion of the SOS campaign, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission deeded the 1,000 Steps property to the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy for eventual ownership.
  • With support from the Keystone Trails Association, the new 40-mile Allegheny Front Trail, originally conceived as the Lost Mountain Trail, was officially dedicated on May 20, 2000.


ADVOCACY: The Keystone Trails Association serves as the statewide voice of the hiking trail community and your trail advocate in the state capital. We have a proven track record of successfully supporting measures that protect Pennsylvania’s hiking trails.

Highlights:

  • Primitive Camping on State Game Lands: In the past, Pennsylvania Game Commission policy prohibited camping on all State Game Lands. This policy was problematic for backpackers traversing State Game Lands, where long stretches between approved camping spots were often a serious hardship. The Keystone Trails Association developed a proposal to modify the Game Commission policy to allow regulated primitive camping along the Appalachian Trail corridor. In 1980, the legislation was finally enacted, and a policy for primitive camping was put in place. The Keystone Trails Association continues to pursue expanding this policy to long-distance hiking trails across the state.
  • Trail Conflicts: The Keystone Trails Association drafted a petition for members to send to then-DCNR Secretary John Oliver over a growing concern of trail misuse by mountain bikers and equestrians. The petition urged "positive posting" of all State Forest Hiking Trails designating them as footpaths only. In the fall of 1999, DCNR and the Bureau of Forestry (BOF) announced that all 18 State Forest Hiking Trails and the state’s 3 National Scenic Trails would remain "Hiker Only," a great win for the hiking community.
  • Illegal ATV Use: In 2000, the Keystone Trails Association mounted a campaign to oppose the expansion of ATV trails in State Forests. In time, the state legislature passed House Bill 154 (Act 68), which significantly improved the regulation of ATVs in the state and established a Snowmobile and ATV Advisory Committee (SAAC), which includes a designated representative from the Keystone Trails Association.
  • Endangered Hiking Trails: In 2002, the Endangered Trails program emerged to direct attention toward Pennsylvania hiking trails that are threatened by development and environmental pressures.
  • Sunday Hunting: The Keystone Trails Association opposes legislation to authorize Sunday Hunting in Pennsylvania, an issue that reappears in the state legislature on a regular basis. In June of 2005, and again in October of 2011, the Keystone Trails Association presented testimony before the Game & Fisheries Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives setting forth our opposition to Sunday hunting legislation.


HIKING EVENTS: The Keystone Trails Association has been hosting hiking events across the state since our inaugural fall meeting in 1956. We continue to add new hiking programs to our calendar in order to highlight Pennsylvania’s wealth of hiking opportunities and to introduce a new generation of hikers to our state’s trails.

Highlights:

  • The annual Spring and Fall Hiking Weekends have drawn crowds of more than 200 hikers who enjoy the opportunity to explore new trails, socialize with old and new hiking friends and learn more about the work of the Keystone Trails Association. In recent years, these weekends have been held in Butler County, Chester County, Mifflin County, Forest County and the always-popular Wellsboro in Tioga County.
  • The first Pennsylvania Hiking Week was held in 2002 in cooperation with DCNR and is now in its eleventh year. The annual event typically features at least 100-guided hikes – many sponsored by KTA member clubs – at locations across the state. Pennsylvania Hiking Week is also scheduled in conjunction with National Trail Days, which is the first Saturday in June.
  • The Prowl the Sproul Hiking Weekend began in 2003 with support from the Bureau of Forestry and the Western Clinton Sportsmen’s Association. This hiking weekend in the Pennsylvania Wilds has grown to include a 10K trail race and a 3-day slackpacking adventure.
  • In 2009, the Keystone Trails Association hosted the first Susquehanna Super Hike, a one-day trail challenge event in the lower Susquehanna Gorge. The event has grown in popularity each year as participants are enamored by the scenic views and challenging terrain on the 28.4-mile course.
  • This year the Keystone Trails Association has launched a new program called the 100-Mile Trail Challenge. This challenge will recognize hikers that complete 100 miles or more on Pennsylvania hiking trails and encourages hikers to secure sponsorships for each mile of their journey.


PARTNERSHIPS: The Keystone Trails Association has a long history of partnering with like-minded organizations to support the trail community.

  • In 1980, the Keystone Trails Association joined the Stony Creek Valley Coalition to successfully block a planned power project in St. Anthony's Wilderness in Dauphin County.
  • The Keystone Trails Association worked closely with the trail community to establish a more acceptable route for the Appalachian Trail through the Cumberland Valley. When local opposition emerged, the Keystone Trails Association participated vigorously in the ensuing public debate. In 1986, the National Park Service finally settled on a new route for the Appalachian Trail across the Valley.
  • In an effort to enhance the Keystone Trails Association’s relationship with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, the Keystone Trails Association worked to establish a Letter of Mutual Understanding between the two groups. In 2004, an agreement is finalized between the Keystone Trails Association, the Bureau of Forestry and the local trail clubs that maintain hiking trails in State Forests.


PUBLICATIONS: The Keystone Trails Association promotes Pennsylvania’s hiking trails through publications like Pennsylvania Hiking Trails, Guide to the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail maps, and other trails guides and maps, as well as our quarterly newsletter The Keystone Hiker.

 
1956-1965: The birth of Keystone Trails Association Print
The First Ten Years of KTA: 1956-1965

by Maurice Forrester

Conceived in Catoctin; Hatched in Harrisburg

Founding of a Dream

Although the organization that became Keystone Trails Association first emerged in Harrisburg in January of 1956, it had its initial conception a few months earlier in Catoctin, Maryland. For some years a group of trail clubs in the Baltimore/Washington area had been sponsoring a fall weekend get-together to which were invited various other hiking groups located within a reasonable travel distance. In 1955, the gathering was held on the weekend of October 1-2 at Camp Greentop in Catoctin, with some 135 hikers in attendance, including a number with an interest in Pennsylvania trails.

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1966-1975: Growth and Changes Print
The Second Ten Years of KTA: 1966-1975

by Maurice Forrester

Publications

KTA's second decade began with a determined focus on the group's publication program. The organization's first ten years had already seen three editions of Pennsylvania Hiking Trails. Although these were all relatively modest 8 ½ " x 11" booklets with simple sketch maps, they were enthusiastically received by the Pennsylvania hiking community, as witnessed by the need for three editions during KTA's first ten years.

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1976-1985: Incorporation and Expansion of Our Mission Print
KTA's Third Decade: 1976-1985

by Maurice Forrester

The third decade of KTA's existence proved to be the busiest so far. The organization continued to grow and established itself firmly as a force and voice for hikers throughout the Keystone State. Various new member services were implemented, and ever more energy was put into public policy concerns. More support was provided for trails on the ground. The ten-year period ended with two events that shaped much of the group's activities for a number of years into the future.

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1986-1995: KTA Hosts AT Biennial Conference Print
KTA's Fourth Decade: 1986-1995

by Maurice Forrester

The fourth decade of KTA's existence was a notably productive one. The highlight of the decade, of course, was the Appalachian Trail Conference's 1989 biennial general meeting at East Stroudsburg, PA, with KTA as host. In addition though, there were other notable accomplishments relating to the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the state. There were also significant developments involving KTA's organizational arrangements.

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