Hiking Guru Talks ‘Ordinary People,’ Urban Trails and Perfect Paths
Robert Manning is a hiking guru. At the University of Vermont, he researches and teaches park managment, which in practice means that he does a lot of hiking. With his wife, Martha, he cowrote the book Walking Distance (Oregon State University Press), which details 30 walks for any hiker's bucket list. Sierra Club spoke with Manning about his book, his experience with park management and the best trail in the world.
Sierra Club: The subtitle of your book is Extraordinary Hikes for Ordinary People. Who's "ordinary"? I mean, what's the face of the American hiker today?
Robert Manning: I think it’s quite a cross-section, but the "ordinary people" part of the book is something that Martha and I feel strongly about. That’s the main purpose of the book, really: to get people walking more. Compared with people in a lot of the countries we’ve visited, not a lot of Americans are out there walking. With this book, we’re trying to do something about that, to get people to explore and create and ultimately protect these places.
SC: You have a strong connection to the John Muir Trail in particular, which you call one of your top 10 walks in the world.
RM: I have a long and deep relationship with the John Muir Trail. When I graduated from college, it was 1968, and the Vietnam War was raging, and so I joined the Coast Guard. I enjoyed living in the city, but even more I enjoyed getting out to Yosemite. It really convinced me that I wanted something to do with the National Parks. That’s also how I became aware of John Muir and the Sierra Club.
I always get a kick out of hiking above the tree line, of visiting places that I’d been seeing in Sierra Club calendars for years, thinking, "I really want to go there." Hiking over John Muir Pass and then on to Gifford Pinchot Pass—the legacy of American conservation is just written into the landscape. To me, there’s no mountain range that’s more beautiful and friendly and engaging than the Sierras. That, combined with the Muir legacy, makes the trail my favorite hike.
SC: You’re an expert in park management. What’s your take on how the John Muir Trail is managed?
RM: It has been around for a long time, so it’s well marked and well managed. One area where it excels is the permit system.
SC: What makes a good permit system? The only innovation I’m aware of is the Grand Canyon's rafting permit system, which switched to a weighted lottery. I should also mention that you profile a hike along the Colorado River in your book.
RM: The rafting waitlist was 20 years [laughs], and that can’t work. The John Muir Trail innovation is the simplicty of a single permit that cuts through two national parks and two U.S. Forest Service areas. It would be daunting if one had to get a permit from those four entities and then had to coordinate the dates. At Yosemite in general, they allocate things in a way that's easy for the user, even when it's not easy for them.
SC: So nationally, we’ve got some good parks. What about internationally? In Walking Distance, you list a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as El Camino de Santiago, in northern Spain and parts of France.
RM: UNESCO sites are very successfully managed. It’s the Parks Service ramped up on a global scale. For a country to get the status, they have to have a plan in place to manage it. And they take that very seriously.
SC: El Camino de Santiago is a Catholic pilgrimage, and yet there’s a mix of people that there.
RM: The mix, the diversity of people, on the Camino is probably the most on any trail that I’ve walked. We met people from all over the world. Even more impressive, we came across people of all age groups. The religious significance is obviously important, but I’d say that a large portion of the people we encountered were not walking for religious reasons.
SC: In your book, you focus on provencial hikes like the Camino and wilderness hikes like the Muir Trail. What about urban hiking?
RM: Martha and I have really begun to embrace urban walks. One that we did this summer is what’s called the River Thames Walk in England. It starts at the source in the Gloucestershire and goes right through London—which takes three days—and then on to the sea. Martha and I would like to include urban and suburban walks in a future book. We love, for example, that portion of the California Coastal Trail from Muir Beach south to Cliff House. We sort of christened it "the Golden Gate Way."
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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