The National Trails System Act of 1968, as amended, (P.L. 9-543), established the process for authorizing and designating new national scenic and national historic trails. In the Act, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to conduct studies to determine the feasibility and desirability of designating new national scenic or national historic trails. Trail studies are made in consultation and cooperation with interested federal, state, and local governments as well as public and private organizations, landowners, and land users.

Three eligibility criteria.
Under the law, a potential trail must meet all three eligibility criteria (below) in order to be designated as a new national historic trail.
1. It must be a trail or route established by historic use and must be historically significant as a result of that use.
2. It must be of national significance with respect to any of several broad facets of American history, such as trade and commerce, exploration, migration and settlement, or military campaigns. To qualify as nationally significant, historic use of the trail must have had a far reaching effect on broad patterns of American culture. Trails significant in the history of native Americans may be included.
3. It must have significant potential for public recreational use or historical interest based on historic interpretation and appreciation. The presence of recreation potential not related to historic appreciation is not sufficient justification for designation under this category.

A study team at the National Trails Office, National Park Service has been assembled to prepare the Emancipation National Historic Trail Study. Based on experience, trail studies typically take two and a half years to complete. Once completed, findings of the study will be transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior who will submit the report to Congress. Only Congress, through legislated action, has the authority to establish a new national historic trail.

* indicates the current step in the planning process
Step 1. Information Gathering and Civic Engagement
Step 2. Trail Study Criteria Analysis
Step 3. Prepare Final Study Document *
Step 4. Submit Study Document to Secretary of the Interior
Step 5. Secretary of Interior Transmits Study to Congress