A new long-distance trail is in the works that will span the length of the country. And it's being named after a corporate sponsor: Gore-Tex. OK, the country we're talking about isn't the United States. It's Scotland, where the 373-mile "Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail" is under development. But I find it a disturbing development in the world of new trail construction—and one I sincerely hope we don't see cross the Atlantic.
Scotland's Cuillin Mountains
According to an article on Scotsman.com, the Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail will run from Kirk Yetholm in the Borders to Cape Wrath, the northwestern point of the UK mainland. It will travel through two national parks, visit the capital city of Edinburgh, and tour some of the country's most impressive mountain scenery. It's the brainchild and passion of one Cameron McNeish (here's his blog) and, oh yeah, it's being named for a waterproof fabric.
Gore-Tex, a product line of W.L. Gore and Associates, has agreed to provide funding support to help make the trail a reality—in exchange, evidently, for naming rights to the trail. According to the article: "The company’s name is expected to feature on copper plaques that point the way along the route and links with shops that sell the company’s products may be advertised."
Now I recognize funding is always a challenge for trail developers and trail maintenance. But I also head into the backcountry to escape from the capitalist trappings of society and revel in the purity of the natural experience. So the thought of having a brand name pushed on me at every trail junction is somewhat galling.
Now you might say that we all hike as walking logo billboards for our favorite brand of outdoor gear, whether it's The North Face or Patagonia or whatever. But those are voluntary choices—and we could always patch over or cover up the logos if they really offended us. The thought of corporate trail sponsorship being pushed on us, whether we like it or not, is more troubling to me.
Then again, if corporate sponsorship and naming rights are the only way to get new trails built—or older trails maintained and updated—is it worth it? Only time will tell, I suppose. Until then, I will be fervently hoping I don't find myself on the new "Gore-Tex Northeast Trail" any time soon.