As the population grows and American society develops and expands, there's always a danger that some important history may be buried or swept aside. That's why an Interior Department recommendation to develop and mark two major historic trails across the Western United States is important.

Interior proposes to designate 3,821 miles of the California Trail and 1,833 miles of the Pony Express Trail as national historic trails. Both stretch, with various branches, from Iowa and Missouri to California and Oregon. Along the way, they cross parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Nevada.The plan calls for five visitor centers shared by both trails; six new roadside stations; 30 new trail-head markers; protection of nearly 200 historic resource sites; new trail signs along more than 1,600 miles, and other improvements.

Development and construction costs would be about $4.6 million and yearly operating expenses would come to $466,000. Most of the money would come from state and private contributions. Only $711,000 in capital improvements and $166,000 in yearly operating costs would come from federal funds.

The California Trail connected the West Coast with the Midwest during the gold rush that started in 1849 and included routes followed by earlier settlers and Mormon pioneers. The Pony Express Trail followed many of the same routes, but also took different, more direct, paths through desolate parts of Utah and Nevada.

Congress should approve the trail designations and the relatively small amounts of money needed to preserve these important links with the past and keep alive the history and heritage they represent.