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Emancipation National Historic Trail Feasibility Study

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The National Park Service is pleased to announce the commencement of the Emancipation National Historic Trail (NHT) Feasibility Study to evaluate its eligibility and suitability for inclusion as a national historic trail.

The proposed Emancipation NHT extends approximately 51 miles from the Osterman Building and Reedy Chapel in Galveston, Texas, along Texas State Highway 3 and Interstate Highway 45 North, to Freedmen's Town, then to Independence Heights and Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas, following the migration route taken by newly freed slaves and other persons of African descent from the major 19th century seaport town of Galveston to the burgeoning community of Freedmen's Town, located in the 4th Ward of Houston, Texas.

The Emancipation NHT Feasibility Study was directed and approved by Congress on Jan 27, 2020 through an amendment to the National Trails System Act (P.L. 116-111).

The purpose of the Emancipation NHT Feasibility Study is to evaluate the national historical significance of the route, as well as the feasibility, suitability, and desirability of designating the route as a national historic trail. Findings of the trail study will be shared with Congress who has the sole authority to enact legislation to designate new national historic trails.


WHAT IS A NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL?
The National Trails System Act of 1968, as amended (P.L. 90-543), calls for establishing trails in urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities. The National Trails System includes national scenic trails, national recreation trails, and national historic trails.

National historic trails are routes that are designated by Congress which follow, as closely as possible, the original routes of travel of national historic significance in the Unites States. These trails follow past routes of exploration, migration, social action, struggle, trade, and military action.

The purpose of national historic trails is the identification and protection of historically significant routes and the sites connected to those routes for public use and enjoyment. Each national historic trail bears a unique marker which is used to signify and mark the route. Interpretation can be developed along the route at historic sites to present information to the public about the trail, and reasonable efforts are made to provide access opportunities to national historic trails. However, the designation of a national historic trail is not synonymous with the establishment of public access to a trail, nor does it transfer or convey land ownership or authority. National historic trails often cross state boundaries and a variety of types of land ownership. However, participation by private property owners is voluntary and therefore there may be no impact to private or non-federal lands that national trails cross. Establishment of on-the-ground-trail along a national historic route happens only in partnership with interested and willing parties.


WHAT IS A NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL FEASIBILITY STUDY?
Prior to the designation of a national historic trail Congress typically legislates that a national historic trail study be completed. National historic trail studies provide findings to Congress on the national historical significance of potential routes and speak to the feasibility, suitability, and desirability of designating a route as a national historic trail. It is important to note that national historic trail studies are not decision-making documents, nor do they provide management-level decisions for the trail.
National historic trail feasibility studies are undertaken following specific criteria that are provided in the National Trails System Act of 1968, as amended. The National System Act specifies ten study requirements and three eligibility criteria for national historic trail designations.
Based on experience, trail studies typically take approximately two and half years to complete. After a trail study is completed it is transmitted to Congress. Congress has the sole authority to enact legislation to designate new national historic trails. A few additional steps are required should Congress designate a new national historic trail. One requirement is the development of a comprehensive plan for the management and use of the trail.


PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT
An important aspect of the trail study process is public involvement. Normally, a series of public meetings would be held across the length of the proposed route to get gather information from the public. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the study team has concluded that it is not feasible or safe to schedule in-person public meetings at this time. Plans for virtual public meetings and involvement opportunities are presently being developed. Specific opportunities for engagement and dates of virtual public meetings will be announced on this page.

Please check back for updates as we develop a plan for engagement and public input during COVID-19.


Contact Information
Lillis A. Urban
Project Manager for the Emancipation National Historic Trail Feasibility Study
Chief of Planning
National Trails Office
National Park Service
1100 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, NM, 87505
505-819-1339
lillis_urban@nps.gov