To some, providing protected natural spaces is to provide a purely environmental or recreational facility, and within the US are rarely considered a piece of transportation infrastructure. However, their role as a transportation network can be essential for refugees and other migrants. A recent article from High Country News (“The Pacific Crest Trail’s shadow hikers“, June 2017) identifies the overlap between hiking infrastructure in the western US and necessary migration routes for refugees and other migrant populations. The Pacific Crest Trail is not known for having a well-groomed or inviting path for long stretches of the trail, and sections of the 2,659 mile path are considered quite dangerous, particularly in winter. Refugees and migrants using the Pacific Crest Trail walk at night in order to remain unseen, and rough terrain and venomous animals both present a significant danger. Investments in more safety systems, particularly those related to water, could be an opportunity to not only prevent deaths among recreational thru-hikers (that is, hikers walking the trail in its entirety) but could also be considered a humanitarian intervention for migrants using the space.
Encouraging the use of established, known spaces is a double-edged sword. Each year dozens of people crossing through the desert get lost en route and die of dehydration, and the desert is peppered with memorials. Safe refuge sites run by groups of volunteers in the southwest have been raided by border police, driving away refugees seeking water, food, or medical attention. Remote water drops have also been destroyed by border patrol officers as well as anti-immigrant citizen groups. Increasing the availability of trail facilities across the border region, particularly in remote areas, may be the key to maintaining the right balance of anonymity and safety to reduce the deadliness of migration into the US. Though high-intensity treatments would potentially bring too much foot traffic and police attention to a given area, a network of paths across the desert with some water and shade access could be a lifeline for refugees — and a benefit to visitors and communities in the region.