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Touching Lives: our job as trails advocates

Remember you aren't just "building trails," you are "building community." If you have only called yourself a trailbuilder, you have sold yourself short.

By Pam Gluck

Keynote presentation for the Missouri Trails Summit in August, 2006

"Learn to make your case. Share your success stories. Don't ask for money to build trails— ask for money to "build community."

I didn't used to give much weight to fortune cookies. Until...

Terry Whaley, Executive Director of Ozark Greenways, and also one of our Board members, asked me to speak to you on behalf of American Trails. I was struggling with what my message to you should be. A few days later, my husband and I went out to our favorite Chinese Restaurant. At the end of our meal, I opened my fortune cookie, expecting to be told something that wasn't very relevant to my life. Instead, I read,

photo of people on a trail
Remember you aren't just "building trails," you are "building community."

"You have the ability to touch the lives of many people."

"You have the ability to touch the lives of many people." Wow! I would like to think that my work makes a difference— but the message was for you... You not only have the ability to, but you do touch the lives of many people— everyday.

I met a lovely woman on the plane yesterday. When I told her what American Trails does, she said it must be rewarding to know that what you do helps people so much. I hadn't told her about the topic of my talk. Serendipity! She also said her doctor gave her a prescription to walk 30 minutes a day, 7 days a week, to help her combat her high cholesterol level. He also said, "The hardest part of walking was putting on your shoes."

I think we are so busy advocating for and building and maintaining trails that we don't often get to hear from the people actually using them.

Terry received a very special letter recently that I believe many trail users echo, but don't take the time to write. This letter was from Violet Stillion from Wishart. Violet said, "Terry, I just wanted to let you know how much your Frisco Highline trail means to our family. My grandchildren and I ride as much as possible. Yesterday my nine year old granddaughter (Meleak) and I rode to Walnut Grove. We had great conversation, beautiful views and met some new people. Today, my two grandsons (Jonathon, 6 and Zachary, 8) rode almost to Bolivar. We enjoyed all the same things while Grandma is losing weight and getting healthier. So your trail has helped us make even stronger connections.

I also wanted you to know our 5 grandkids had a lemonade and water stand on opening weekend and made almost $50, which they donated to the "Convoy of Hope" for hurricane victims. Thanks again for all of your work!" Violet also said she and her husband want to be trailwatchers, and they will work to keep trash off the trail. They have become proud stewardsÉ

Awhile back, I took a flight on United Airlines ... I picked up "Hemispheres," their flight magazine. (I pick up magazines everywhere I go— as I am fascinated at how many photos, articles and advertisements I see showing people using trails or telling about trail opportunities or how close a new development is to a given trail.) "Hemispheres" was featuring a special issue dedicated to Pilgrimages— journeys of the spirit, and adventures around the world.

The introductory article started out, "Once upon a time, people undertook journeys with a sense of wonder....to discover new worlds, to acquire wisdom, heal the body, or cleanse the soul, to touch a sacred relic, or start over somewhere."

We make our journeys, and then they make us...

We build our trails today and we leave healthy communities and lasting legacies for tomorrow...

Phillip Ferranti, wrote a book called Hiking: the Ultimate Natural Prescription for Health (it could just as easily have been called Mountain Bicycling the Ultimate Natural Prescription for Health or Horseback Riding, etc.)

Ferranti says:

"Nature becomes our Touchstone...By taking time out from our busy days, hiking or riding out to some natural setting, we feed our souls with the substance of nature's truths. The role of trails is simple - they take us where we may relate, be healed, touched, inspired, and ... they provide opportunities to be with families and friends, to create happy memories, to become physically and mentally fit, and allow us to travel from place to place."

Trails are pathways to enable us to "Enjoy the moments..." what is sacred or special in every day life.

John Muir said "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees, the winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

Out of all the culture and beauty in this great State, the first thing I think of when I think of Missouri is the KATY Trail. For me, the KATY trail is the ultimate mid-western experience.

Meandering 225 miles past farmlands and through forest, by mountain path and along the Missouri, the KATY trail is a wonderful resource for this State. And, the Katy trail is a huge success for business and tourism.

Though many people and organizations talk about the economic benefits of trails, the KATY trail is doing it. For instance, I understand there are 75 Bed and Breakfasts along or near the Katy Trail, lots of stores, restaurants, outdoor retailers— and wineries to visit— how fun!

In a true midwestern lack of pretense, the organizers of this rail-trail conversion pushed through years of construction, flooding and setbacks to create the longest developed rail-trail in the country. And, I have just learned it is a State Park— probably the longest in the world! We should have more of these!

In the quiet and solitude of the countryside, hikers, bikers, and families are supporting the local communities; and coming to appreciate the beauty that the local people have known and loved for years.

What a wonderful thing— that a trail can bring together people and support communities, all the while providing its users with health, beauty, and memories. The KATY trail is a model that we should look to, and emulate in every state in the country.

I am reminded of an experience I had:

Prior to National Trails Day, I was in Arizona and had a flat in old town Tucson. Fortunately for me, an old cowboy came sauntering down main street and offered to help. When we were finished, he spotted the National Trails Symposium brochure in the back of my Highlander, and asked, "Trails— what's this about?" I answered, "Oh we're holding the 18th National Trails Symposium in Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, on the beautiful Mississippi River, October 19-22 of 2006. And the theme for the Symposium is "Trails for America: Every Where; Every Way, Every Day." And, we expect between 600-800 trail leaders and enthusiasts from across the nation to attend." (How's that for a quick commercial?)

Anyway his eyes lit up and he said, "Trails? Have you heard about that Ar-i-zo-na Trail? I answered, "As a matter of fact, I am heading to the Coronado National Memorial next week to help dedicate a new segment which will anchor the 750 mile Arizona Trail to the Mexico border as a part of the National Trails Day celebration."

And then— I saw this far-a-way look in his eyes as he stared up into the mountains for a spell. Then he stated, "I'm going to ride that trail someday." And you know— I wondered if he would. And then, I realized that it really didn't matter if he rode it or he didn't— what was important to him was the idea of it, and knowing it was there— and that he could if he wanted to.

I would like to walk the Katy Trail one day, and the Frisco Highline, and the MKT Trail here in Columbia, and the three new National Recreation Trails in the State (the Memory Lane Trail, the Tablerock Lakeshore Trail, and the Galloway Creek Greenway). I would like to walk the Ozark Trail, and the American Discovery Trail, to retrace the footprints of Lewis and Clark, to walk along the Mississippi River and under St. Louis' magnificent, sacred Arch again. And for now— I like the idea of all of this.

Most of you are involved with a trail because you like the idea of it— the vision, and you like being a part of it. Many of you work on the trail more than you walk or ride on it! You own a piece of it. By "owning" it I mean you have sweat equity in it. You advocate for trails— happy to give your mental abilities and support or use McLeods and design, develop, or maintain it. I have been reading about the Ozark Trail and the great work the association is doing recruiting and nurturing 100s of volunteers of the trail. Isn't it wonderful to have volunteer trail work vacations? I found it interesting that there were more photos of people working on the trail on their website than of using them. Dedication!

Congratulations to all of you who are generously helping create these beautiful Missouri Trails!

I called the last decade, the "Decade of Trails" because of all the new Transportation dollars infusing communities with opportunity. Trails began to spread across the country like wildfire— and they continue to spread. Trails are finally being thought of as infrastructure. I call this one the "Decade of Building Community"— the decade of "making a difference."

Look at some of your recent success stories:

  • Congratulations to Mayor Hindman of Columbia. I'm sure you know Columbia is 1 of 4 communities in the country to receive $25 million over a 4-year period— as one of the first community alternative transportation Pilot Projects. We'll be looking to learn about the programs they create and they will become a model for the future.
  • Congratulations to the Missouri Bicycle Federation and all the other advocates - on the signing of the Missouri Bicycle Safety Bill! Speaker of the House, Rod Jetton, was proud to have supported the passage of the bill. He and his 12-year old son and 60 other people toured the Katy Trail this summer. He said, "After experiencing it firsthand, I can honestly say that the Katy Trail is truly a great natural resource within Missouri. The ride provided one of the most wonderful outdoor experiences I can remember, and supplied us with memories that will last a lifetime!"
  • Terry Whaley just dedicated the Frisco Highline Trail and got all of the Mayors to meet in the middle to proclaim their dedicated support for the trail. Terry has nonstop energy and is a true innovator— from using old railbed cars for bridges, to transforming a landfill into a greenway. He knows how to get things done— how to build support for trails. And what drives him is he knows trails are making a difference in people's lives. There is a reason why Terry was sought out and asked to be an American Trails Board member. He is a true visionary and is always inspiring me!
  • Jessica Terrell, your State Trail Administrator, is enthusiastic and seeks out opportunities for you. For instance, she sought out Pam Packer of the Colorado Outdoor Training Initiative. Pam is here to talk to you about creating a statewide model for trails training and to teach you about effective Trail Crew Leadership. You are lucky to have Jessica! Such energy and enthusiasm and she cares so much.

And, there are many others...

What you do, as volunteers or government employees or elected officials or community leaders, to build trail— to "build community" is very important. As Bob Searns, American Trails Vice-Chair, says, "Our work is noble work." Zen Roshi, Johndennis Govert, said during his talk at the 14th National Trails Symposium, "In ancient cultures, those who connected sacred places were sages. The role of trail planners and trail makers is a sagely pursuit." Trails provide us a sense of place. I think we should remember that trails ARE critical to our way of life. And, what we are all doing, in our different ways, is bringing health and happiness to our world.

Mayor Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh said, during his keynote presentation at the 2002 National Trails Symposium, "Knock the doors down. Don't let anyone stand in your way or tell you "NO."

Remember you aren't just "building trails," you are "building community." If you have only called yourself a trailbuilder, you have sold yourself short.

You are helping families stay connected and create happy memories. Walking through nature can be one of the most uplifting and bonding experiences families can share. It's invigorating to the mind and spirit. Goethe says "A joy shared is a joy doubled."

You are building friendships that will last a lifetime.

You are feeding spirits.

You are providing alternative modes of transportation and helping to relieve congestion and improve air quality.

You are infusing the economy with dollars:

American Trails' national office is in Redding, California. I'm going to brag like a new proud Mom for a minute, even though I can't take any credit for actually building our new bridge. The centerpiece of Redding's regional trail system is the Sundial Bridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava, world-renowned architect, engineer, and artist. He designed the Olympic stadium in Greece. (I have included some photos in the show.) Our bridge is magnificent! It is the most beautiful outdoor sculpture I have ever seen. The bicycle and pedestrian bridge crosses the Sacramento River and is all white, 700 feet long, 24 feet wide, and has a 200-foot spire that truly serves as a Sundial. A highlight is it has a frosted glass surface and is lighted and glorious at night! Trail users can look over the side and watch the Salmon spawn. Thousands of people use it daily, and at anytime, you might hear foreign voices. It is one of the reasons my husband and I wanted to live in Redding.

The Redding Convention and Visitors Center credits the Sundial Bridge as having provided a huge economic impact to our community.

The economic benefits of trails go far beyond the lattes and bagels purchased by trail users. More and more every year, real estate agents are seeing the truth: trails are great for property value!

A survey of 2,000 recent home buyers was co-sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors. The survey asked about the "importance of community amenities," and trails came in second only to highway access.

According to a Minnesota study, 70% of real estate agents use trails as a selling feature when selling homes near trails. And, 80% of them feel the trail would make it easier to sell.

A study of property values near greenbelts in Boulder, Colorado, found that the average value of a home next to the greenbelt would be 32% higher than the same property 3,200 feet from the greenbelt.

You are helping to create healthier citizens:

As you know, there is an epidemic of obesity in this nation. You have probably all heard these facts before, but they are so staggering that they are worth repeating. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 30% of Americans are obese. That is to say that one in three people in this country are seriously overweight.

In an effort to combat this growing epidemic, the Surgeon General has recommended at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.

Tremendous amounts of studies have shown that regular daily exercise is nothing short of a miracle for healing our bodies and losing weight. According to the American Heart Association, daily physical exercise:

  • reduces the risk of heart disease
  • keeps weight under control
  • improves blood cholesterol levels
  • Prevents high blood pressure
  • Prevents bone loss
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Helps manage stress
  • Releases tension
  • Improves self-image
  • And helps delay or prevent chronic illness associated with aging

Yet, even with all the overwhelmingly good reasons, most people are not doing the recommended physical activity. Less than one-third of adults are exercising to the suggested levels and 40 percent of us are leading sedentary lives with no leisure time physical activity whatsoever.

The most reported reason that people do not exercise is time. Not enough time. At American Trails we think there is an answer to this problem: a national system of trails within 15 minutes of every American home or workplace.

Safe and attractive routes to work, to school, to church, and to shopping are ways that people can combine exercise with necessary trips. Instead of driving to the gym to use the treadmill, our goal should be to make trails part of everyday life for more people.

A landmark trail-users study conducted in 2001 at Indiana University found that 70 to 90% of trail-users were exercising solely because of the presence of a trail nearby.

And, according to Active Living Research, 43% of people with safe places to walk nearby met recommended activity levels, compared to 27 percent without safe trails nearby.

A study conducted in which 19 sedentary men with mild hypertension were put through an exercise program, showed that after just 10 weeks their blood pressure dropped dramatically. The doctor conducting the study pointed out that the exercise was not overly strenuous, but consisted of either walking, cycling, jogging, or any combination, for 30 minutes, four times a week. Just two hours per week spent on a trail and their hypertension diminished dramatically!

So, what can trails do for America? Trails can help control weight. Trails can improve health and help prevent illness and disease. Trails can make people feel good about life, and good about themselves.

In short, trails can change lives.

And that is why we do this. That is why we put up with the paperwork and the frustrations, and the budget cuts. What we do is touch people's lives; and what we do is spreading a respect for this great land and its people.

One man who is helping change people's lives is Bolivar, Missouri Mayor Charles Ealy. Mayor Ealy is arguably a very busy man, yet he keeps an appointment three times every week to leave work and walk with the citizens of his community.

After his doctor warned that he needed to lose weight and exercise, the Mayor started the program, "Walk and Talk with the Mayor." Mondays at noon, Mayor and citizens walk on the Frisco Highline Trail; Wednesdays at Dunnegan park, and Fridays they are at the local cemetery.

"Anyone can come walk with us," says the Mayor. Mayor Early has made exercise a priority in his life and has in turn made exercise a priority in other people's lives. His strong and determined spirit is admirable, and his exercise program is a great example of the benefit of community and trails.

The real secret to fitness is to live in an environment that encourages it.

Our decision makers are getting it. Developers are getting it. As Bob Searns, The Greenway Team, says, "They have found that being "green" means making "green" and lots of it." Developers are recognizing the significant role trails are playing in our lives.

Learn to make your case. Share your success stories. Don't ask for money to build trails— ask for money to "build community." You have so many shining examples in the State to learn from. Work together— we are stronger in numbers and when we are not divided.

With all the overwhelming evidence of the positive effects trails and greenways can have, it is still hard to convince some of our decision makers of the importance. It is especially surprising here in the State of Missouri, with so many proven success stories. As you know, Senator Bond is the Chair of the Transportation Committee and he doesn't fully get the connection between transportation and trails and quality of life. It would be great for your State and for the country if you could continue to help educate him. Tell him about your success stories.

What an awful thing the hurricanes have been. The Longleaf Trace Trail in Mississippi had 20,000 trees destroyed and a million dollars of damage. Trails along the Mississippi River have been wiped out. And the other day, I heard a CNN reporter say that we should get rid of the pork in the transportation bill. He went on to say, "For instance: bicycle and pedestrian trails!" We can't be thought of as "fluff." I am worried about our transportation funds. Your influence with the Senator could go along way. We must be active advocates.

Hats off to all of you who are helping to create this important system of Missouri trails, a key component in a larger national system of trails. Next time you are out on one of the trails you are working on, walk or ride knowing this trail reflects Missouri and the American Spirit and that your "sweat equity" will leave a lasting legacy for others to ride or walk, or not— but know they could if they wanted to.

Remember— your work is a noble thing and "You have the ability to touch the lives of many people." We make our journeys, and then they make us!

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