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American Trails attended the historic White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors held on April 16 in Washington DC.

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arrow From the Spring 2013 issue of American Trails Magazine


Reflections on the past and future


Each year the American Trails Board elects its officers. Typically, board members serve from biennial symposium to symposium. Since this will be my fourth symposium as Chairman, that makes eight years, and I think that’s a sufficient term. For that reason, I did not run for election again. I believe boards and organizations need timely turnover and rejuvenation of leadership to grow and thrive, just as people need change and new endeavors to pursue.

photo of family on trail

Bob Searns on the trail

Needless to say I am very proud of what we as a Board, Staff, Advisory Committee, and volunteers have accomplished together over past eight years. I especially want to thank all of our fantastic volunteers who have been invaluable in organizing our programs, putting on our Symposia, conducting trainings, and performing all sorts of other tasks both complex and mundane.

Especially I thank all of YOU who have supported American Trails with your generous donations, memberships, advertising, exhibits, and sponsorships. I thank all the talented, enthusiastic, and generous people who have worked so hard to get us to where we are today— a premier trails and greenways advocacy and resource organization, serving locally, nationally, and internationally.

I see three important areas where American Trails and the trails community should be focusing going forward:

Expanding advocacy at the state, local, and grass roots level.

In an era of federal deficits and cutbacks, it is highly likely that federal support of trails will continue to be sparse. To sustain and grow the greenways and trails movement, more local investment will be needed. States like Colorado have led the way with a lottery dedicated to parks, open space, and trails. A number of counties have adopted similar sales tax measures. Increasingly there has been philanthropic and private developer support of trails. American Trails needs to redouble its efforts to engage and enable local advocates to pursue financial support of trail projects. Efforts like our Economic Benefits of Trails webinar, our magazine and eNews, and our databases have been invaluable in making the case that, locally, trails are a must-have investment promoting fitness, community livability, and competitiveness for attracting businesses, skilled workers, and tourism. Part of this is working with each of YOU to build a legion of local “Trails Ambassadors.”

Building long-term sustainability for American Trails by expanding a robust non-governmental revenue stream.

Over the years, American Trails has created a world-class information and training resource and has tirelessly advocated an important cause. While public funding support has been and will be essential, it is important to build sustainable revenue from other sources. This has included sponsorships, memberships, symposium attendance, webinars, and other projects. While free services and resources are great, we tend to take them for granted in an environment of advertising-based services, like Google.

The reality, however, is that American Trails needs financial support from its beneficiaries. So when you purchase a webinar, register for a symposium, advertise with us, or simply become a member, you are helping to assure that valuable services and a priceless informational resource will continue to be available to you and hundreds of thousands of others. Simply put, American Trails’ continued growth and effectiveness depends upon YOU!

Continuing to build the organization to better serve YOU.

We all need to express our ideas, volunteer our time, and share our knowledge to help assure American Trails remains the world’s go-to resource. This includes understanding new trends, exploring new trail activities, enhancing the databases, and other efforts. As part of this strategy American Trails will be building its ties to the international trails community as well as expanded local engagement.

I look forward to my continued engagement with American Trails, working with the new Chair, with the staff, and with all my valued colleagues in the trails community. I also look forward to serving on the American Trails Advisory Committee working as liaison between that group and the American Trails Board.

I also plan to be working with an international committee (currently led by Galeo Saintz from South Africa) charged with building a global trails advocacy network. This effort, initiated several years ago by the Jeju Olle Foundation in South Korea, is now joined by 20 nations. The group is striving to create a worldwide exchange where nations and peoples can share their vast know-how, keep each other current, and help promote trails, greenways, conservation, and economic benefits through effective marketing.

Thank you all! I look forward to exciting things to come in the greenways and trails community. I treasure the learning experiences I have had and the lifelong friendships I have been privileged to enjoy with so many of you during my tenure.


Bob Searns has a four-decade track record in planning, designing and implementing award-winning trails, greenways, and open space projects. He has been a speaker, instructor, and led workshops for American Trails, the National Park Service, American Planning Association, and the Urban Land Institute Mayor’s Forum. He has lectured and met with students and faculty in Canada, Japan, China, and Russia. Robert also coauthored, with Charles Flink, “Greenways: A Guide to Planning Design and Development” and has written articles and editorials for many publications.

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