While most metro-area residents avoid taking their cars to work and opt for public transportation, John Davis takes things a step further, and for good cause.

Since February, Davis, a conservationist and co-founder of the Wildlands Network, has been making his way from the Florida Keys to Washington, D.C., snaking his way through national parks, mountain trails, waterways and roads. He’s hiked, biked and paddled through everything from wetlands to prairies to pine forests. This week he was pleasantly surprised to find the many bike paths leading into the district. He passed through Georgetown on Thursday.

“I cycled right in, it was fine,” he said.

Altogether, Davis will hike about 5,000 miles, ending at the northern tip of the Appalachian Mountains in Canada around mid-November.

It’s no coincidence that the area Davis is trekking through is the same stretch of land the Wildlands Network is working to protect. He embarked on his adventure in the name of nature, and aims to increase awareness about wildlife protection.

“I’ve spent most of my life trying to protect wild animals,” Davis said.

Of the many issues concerning wildlife conservation, Davis said the one that’s become glaringly obvious since his journey began is the danger roads pose for not only animals, but also for humans.

“They cause a terribly huge death toll of animals,” he said. “We need to think about how we get around.”

Though conservation issues are often complex, Davis said this particular problem would have “immediate relevancy” because most Americans depend heavily on cars and trucks. The country’s road system, he said, needs to be more accommodating to wildlife that’s attempting to migrate and roam.

“They didn’t evolve to face the dangers of cars,” he said. “Road kill is a painful reminder of that.”

And now he knows of that danger from personal experience. Asked what the hardest part of his trip has been, Davis didn’t say the 30-mile days of hiking, or the difficulty finding enough calories to fuel his intense workouts — instead, he said cycling along the roadside.

“It’s positively scary,” he said. “Our roads really are scary.”

Aside from the roads, Davis — who spoke with the media and others during a break this week in the district — also touched on climate change and keystone species as two issues his trek highlights.

He said his journey south to north somewhat foreshadows the trek many species will soon have to make for their northern migration as the world’s overall temperature increases. Already, animals like brook trout and certain species of butterflies are inching out of their habitats in search of cooler spaces.

Ultimately, the entire journey will showcase what’s known as the Eastern Wildway, which is a continental corridor that runs from Florida to Quebec and has long been a focal point for the Wildlands Network.

Network Director Margo McKnight said certain species, like wolves, need enough room to roam. Because their space is currently interrupted, animals like deer are overpopulated, and that impacts new generations of forest growth.

McKnight said the Wildlife Network seeks to work with private land owners, conservationists and the general public about creating this vast connected space – and increasing awareness is the first step.

“People can make the right decision,” she said.

More than 1,600 users “like” Davis and the Wildlands Network on Facebook, in which network officials see some level of success.

Davis’ stop in the district also allowed for networking with organizations like the National Zoo, Island Press and the National Parks Conservation Association. Davis and McKnight also took a Capital Bikeshare tour throughout the city and ventured to the United States Botanical Garden and Rock Creek Park.

“The park is good example of a really important green space in an otherwise bustling city,” Davis said.

Come Saturday, though, Davis will hop back in the saddle and journey into the next wild territory, because his mission is far from over.

“We’re making gains, but we need to do much more,” he said.

Follow Davis’ trek at the Wildlands Network website.


July 15, 2011