Pennsylvania is home to some of the best hiking in the country, but not everyone appreciates that its thousands of miles of trails don’t just look after themselves. On the contrary, individuals and groups across the state spend countless hours every year working to protect, preserve, and promote Pennsylvania’s wonderful hiking trails and hiking opportunities.
One of the biggest groups spearheading these efforts is the Keystone Trails Association (KTA). Established more than 60 years ago, the KTA has grown from a small coalition of local trail clubs into a leading statewide advocate for Pennsylvania’s hiking community. Read on to learn more about the KTA, its programs and services, and ways to get involved.
What is the KTA?
The KTA is a non-profit public service organization with a mission to maintain and protect Pennsylvania’s recreational hiking trails, promote and provide education on hiking opportunities and activities, and represent the interests and concerns of the state’s hiking community.
The KTA operates as a federation of membership organizations and individuals. This means that it serves as a place where clubs, groups, and people can come together and share both their love for hiking, and the work required to keep hiking accessible for all Pennsylvanians and visitors.
How did the KTA get started?
The KTA was formed in the 1950s by several of the local trail clubs responsible for maintaining the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail. These clubs were engaging in tackling larger projects—such as publishing a Pennsylvania-focused Appalachian Trail guide and constructing a series of shelters for hikers along the trail—and saw the benefits of joining together to cooperate and share resources in pursuit of a shared vision.
Over the years, the KTA’s focus expanded beyond the Appalachian Trail to include the state’s other long-distance hiking trails. Eventually, the organization’s mission grew to incorporate big-picture areas such as advocacy, conservation, education, and member services.
What kinds of things does the KTA do?
Today, the KTA operates a broad range of activities, services, and events in five main programming areas.
1. Trail advocacy
Many hiking trails in Pennsylvania (and, indeed, all over the US) face an uncertain future due to environmental challenges, development pressure, and government cutbacks, among other factors. To help protect these trails, the KTA advocates for the hiking community in the state capitol by following relevant legislation, building awareness at the state level about issues that impact hiking and hikers, and providing tools and education for individuals who want to contribute to these advocacy efforts.
2. Trail protection
Access to hiking trails is not always a straightforward matter: questions such as where trails are located and who owns or controls that land can complicate the issue. In response, the KTA trains volunteers to collaborate with the owners and managers of the lands where hiking trails are situated with the goal of securing free and permanent trail access.
3. Trail care
It takes a significant amount of work to build and maintain hiking trails that are safe and accessible. Since 1985, the KTA has operated a Trail Care program that sees volunteer crews dedicate thousands of hours every year to clearing and upgrading trail corridors. People of all ages and abilities can join a Trail Care team. The KTA further supports these passionate volunteers by providing workshops and training on key subjects such as chainsaw safety, trail erosion control, and rock work.
4. Support for local trail clubs
The KTA serves as an umbrella organization for some 40 trail clubs and partners across Pennsylvania. These member clubs can obtain grants, resources, and additional support from the KTA for their own trail care projects and special events. In addition, membership in the KTA helps transform individual clubs into a strong and supportive statewide community.
5. Promotion of hiking trails and opportunities
One of the main goals of the KTA is to encourage more people to hit the trail, and to stay safe and have fun while doing so. To this end, the KTA organizes a variety of hiking events, such as Pennsylvania Hiking Week (co-sponsored with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources); runs several “challenge” programs that give awards for hiking the trails of Pennsylvania; helps connect individual hikers with local clubs; and publishes a range of maps and guides, including the popular PA Appalachian Trail Guide.
How can I get involved with the KTA?
If you’re interested in hiking and the outdoors and you’d like to get involved with the KTA, there are many ways to do so. You can become a member of the association (membership is open to individuals and families, and well as to other organizations and clubs); you can volunteer your time as part of a Trail Care crew; you can purchase a guidebook or other publication from the KTA; you can participate in a KTA-organized workshop or event; you can help with advocacy efforts by writing to your state representative; or you can make a charitable donation. And, of course, in addition to these options, one of the best ways to support the KTA’s mission is simply to get out and enjoy the many wonderful hiking trails that Pennsylvania has to offer!