Here’s a figure to impress the guests at your next cocktail party: The Great Lakes shoreline in the United States and Canada is more than 10,000 miles long—nearly half the circumference of Earth.
Now imagine a walking trail around that shoreline. It would be longer than the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails combined. In fact, it would be the longest public walking trail in the world.
Such a footpath is more than a hypothetical idea. Melissa Scanlan, director of the Environmental Law Center at the Vermont Law School, proposed a Great Lakes Coastal Trail in a recent article in the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law. Scanlan argues that the trail would provide a tangible way to restore the public’s coastal history and build local tourist economies.
Intrigued, we checked in with Scanlan by email to learn more about her ambitious vision for the trail.
MEC: Why does someone in Vermont care so much about the Great Lakes? What’s your connection to the lakes?
Melissa Scanlan: I grew up in the Lake Michigan Basin of Wisconsin, founded and directed Midwest Environmental Advocates, where I worked as a lawyer to protect the Great Lakes, and have spent many hours enjoying the lake shores, so I understand what a precious and beautiful resource they are for the region. I also saw through my prior work that we need to focus the public’s attention on the significance of the lakes for the region as a cohesive, binational whole. To address this need, build on existing water and property law, and engage the public, I’ve created a blueprint to establish a Great Lakes Coastal Trail on the shores of the Great Lakes. The trail will link together 10,000 miles of coastline and provide the longest marked walking trail in the world. Unlike other National Scenic Trails where most of the trail required new easements, this one will demarcate an already existing, yet largely forgotten, public trust easement. You don’t have to be born rich to be a beneficiary of this trust fund; the Great Lakes Coastal Trail will allow the public to enjoy their common heritage in the lakeshore, which is held by the government in trust for them. Read more