In six weeks a convoy of backpackers led by a 26-year-old newspaper editor from Dillsburg, Pa., will set out from upstate New York on a 3,246-mile roundabout trek to North Dakota.
Their aim is to draw attention to the North Country Trail - a proposed hiking route across the northern tier of states that they hope will become the first east-west part of the National Scenic Trails System.
The leader of the pack is Carolyn Hoffman, who ran the weekly paper in Dillsburg until arranging the cross-country hike took up all her time. She will be joined by four other walkers who were selected by the International Backpackers' Association from more than 300 applicants.
The IBA is sponsoring the hike because it desperately wants the federal government to expand its scenic trails program. The law under which trails are taken under the federal wing was passed in 1968. At that time the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were selected and 14 other trails were set aside for study and possble later inclusion in the program.
But no other routes have since been chosen.
IBA president Lance Feild of Lincoln Center, Maine, said his organization intends to turn over all data obtained on the hike to state land management agencies, the federal Bureau of Recreation, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs (since some of the route is over Indian lands).
"The route the BOR tentatively set up is a 10-mile-wide corridor," Feild said. "That's a lot of ground. We're going to map the best route within that corridor. We have to determine the accessibility to the various cities along the way, sources of water, post offices for hikers to pick up drop shipments, grocery outlets, emergency contacts . . ."
Presumably with that information in hand it would be that much harder for the federal government to delay action.
"They've had the report (on the North Country Trail) completed for two years now," said Feild. He is pressing for federal help because that would make Bureau of Recreation funds available to but rights of way and secure the trail route for good.
Feild imagines the day when a hiker can start up the Appalachian Trail from Georgia, catch a crossover to the North Country Trail somewhere in Massachusetts and not stop hiking till he hits the Far West.
Hoffman's colleagues on the nine-month journey that begins March 5 will be Lou Ann Fellows, a registered nurse from California; Time Line of Knoxville, Tenn., who hiked all 2,054 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 1976; Richard Rice, operator of an adventure wilderness school in Lubbock, Tex., and Fred Rubinfeld of Brooklyn, who will be the group's guide through the New York mountains.
Fourteen companies have offered to provide equipment and the IBA, which has 5,000 members nationwide, is pushing the federal government for a $10,000 contribution for food for the hikers.
Feild said the North Country Trail has the Backpackers' Association's top priority for inclusion in the scenic trails program. If the organization succeeds there it will get to work next on the Desert Trail, a 2,500-mile West Coast run from Canada to Mexico that parallels the Pacific Crest but runs east of the mountains.