“Great is the earth, and the way it became what it is, Do you imagine it has stopped at this? . . . . and the increase abandoned? Understand then that it goes as far onward from this as this is from the times when it lay in covering waters and gases.”
– Walt Whitman
The above quote, from one of my favorite Walt Whitman poems called “Great Are the Myths,” occurred to me recently when I received the following inquiry as to the status of the Great Plains Trail: “When will the trail be completed?”
Of course, that is at once a simple question (sort of the equivalent of, “Are we there yet?), and also a very complicated question. Even without getting philosophical, metaphysical, mystical, poetic, arcane, or transcendental, the question is a tricky one . . . but a good one. Below is my best response:
There are perhaps three stages involved in “completing” the trail:
1) Trail Routing: This means knowing where the trail is initially going to go. There are lots of options, and it will take a few years (3-5) before this is “complete.”
2) Trail Mapping: Just knowing a route is not enough. That route will have to be mapped and pinpointed with GPS information and directions, descriptions etc. This will be ongoing, but I imagine the whole thing could be mapped 3–5 years beyond the routing time. (Subtotal 6-10 years.)
3) National Scenic Trail Status: This is a Congressional declaration that is also in the works, but we have a lot less control over it. In a congenial Washington D.C. climate, this can take up to 10 years, but given the current state of gridlock, 10 years seems optimistic. Best to get out and hike/bike/horse-ride the trail before Congress declares anything. That said, it remains a definite goal to have the official stamp – whenever that may come . . .
So, on the optimistic side, we should have a pretty good idea of the route in as little as 3 years, and if you’re particularly adventurous, and willing to go without detailed information, that’s your best hope.
On the pessimistic side (I don’t recommend this approach) it could be as long as 10 years, or more, before the trail is “complete.”
Of course, as Walt Whitman reminds us, nothing is ever complete, not even the earth itself. Everything (and I do mean everything) is a work in progress. So far, the progress that has been made on the Great Plains Trail is encouraging, and I look forward to more and more progress to come, but no, we are not “there” yet . . .