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The intention of this site is threefold: 1) to increase usage of and diversity on our public lands; 2) to increase awareness of public lands recreational opportunities and the economy that relies upon open access to them; and 3) to encourage advocacy for public lands when threats or risks to them arise.

In early 2017, I began a 10,000+ mile circuit of the United States by way of back roads and a backpack to explore and document as many of our public lands as possible. I originally intended to hike several long trails in the eastern US, but repeated threats to our public lands in the west derailed those plans. Our long trails are only safe as long as the land underneath them is protected.

During my travels, I’ve met up with local adventurers to discover some of their favorite recreation spots and activities, and non-profits dedicated to the outdoors, whether specific places, or with the mission to get more people out into our wild places. Additionally, I learned that the outdoor recreation industry contributes nearly $900 BILLION of mostly sustainable dollars to our national economy EACH year, so I began profiling businesses whose revenue primarily depends on our continued open access to public lands.

While I didn’t get to hike much in 2017, I plan to remedy that in 2018 to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968. I’ll be spending most of the year on foot, approximately 7,000 miles thru-hiking the Florida, Appalachian, and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails, as well as the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail. I’m going to keep spreading the word about the importance of preserving and protecting our public lands, but in ‘18 it’s going to be from the ground, almost a solid year of trail time. I’m excited to share with you the beauty of so many more of our public lands, but this time, at an average pace of around 3 miles per hour.

Hikers hike!

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Who ARE you?

Hi! My name is Michelle Markel. On trail, it’s SuperClassy… my primary activity on public lands is long-distance hiking. If you follow me long enough, you’ll understand that my trail name is mostly ironic, but I do like to pack out wine when I can, and I almost always hike in a dress.

I’ve always loved the outdoors, but when I became an adult, I was rarely able to get off the couch, too exhausted from adulting. In 2012, I set for myself the goal of hiking at least 100 miles. Since then, I haven’t looked back, and although I stopped keeping track in 2014, I estimate that I’ve hiked around 4,000 trail miles over countless days and nights, including the Trans-Catalina, Tahoe Rim, and Pacific Crest Trails.

I volunteered as a Fire Lookout on the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California during the 2014 season, and since finishing the PCT in 2015 I’ve been a full-time adventurer, spending most of 2016 exploring Ecuador and Peru, including hiking the Quilotoa Loop.

Thru-hiking is essentially a selfish venture. While undoubtedly I am a better person for it, this project is my attempt to give back in some small way – my love letter to the outdoor spaces that are open for all of us to enjoy.

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WHY are you doing this?

The short answer: My time on public lands has unquestionably changed my life for the better. I’m stronger, more resourceful, more creative, and more capable, among other gains, as a result of thousands of trail miles and countless days and nights spent in the outdoors in just the last five years. I believe strongly in the importance of keeping our public lands open and available to any and all individuals who also wish to benefit from time spent there.

The long answer: Wallace Stegner said that “[n]ational parks are the best idea we ever had,” but without the concept of public lands, our National Parks system wouldn’t exist, and public lands are frequently at risk due to special interests and the prevailing political climate. However, public lands are a non-partisan part of the American heritage that are truly democratic: they are open to all, and they do not care what gender, color, or ethnicity you are. They don’t differentiate or discriminate based on religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation. The beauty they offer is equally available to each of us.

Unfortunately, forests, mountains, deserts, lakes, and rivers don’t have voices or millions of dollars to pay lobbyists to advocate for their own survival. I’m concerned about the escalating number of threats and risks to the sanctity and stability of our public lands and our ongoing open access to them that have arisen recently. As public landowners, we are responsible for ensuring they remain intact, and awareness of how vital they are to so many people in so many ways can be an effective strategy to motivate advocacy for them.

My hope is that by capturing and documenting some of the beauty, wonders, and opportunities that abound in our public lands, and spotlighting the broad diversity of people who already live, work, and recreate on them, more people will get outdoors and into our wild and natural spaces, or at least be moved to actively advocate for their preservation.