American Trails has always advocated more communication and cooperation among all trail users. Our editorial in the last issue of Trail Tracks, in fact, was titled "What if recreation interests spoke with one voice..." But it is also essential that the trails community build more communication and cooperation among the larger community beyond the trails world.
Why? Trail users, even speaking in unison, are still a tiny voice nationally, and one that risks being given the dreaded label of a "special interest." I believe we're anything but a special interest; trails provide benefits that transcend party lines as well as county lines. But we need to do more to show how trails benefit people of all ages, and help build safe, liveable communities.
ISTEA has given us a good connection to community development interests. It has also brought home the need for trails people to get informed about transportation funding and to build alliances with an important community: planners, advocates for public and alternative transportation, historic preservationists, and walkable cities advocates.
One of those important alliance is our partnership with the open space preservation movement. Many counties and cities throughout America have passed bond issues and sales tax initiatives that include funding for trails. A good example is the sales tax passed recently in Colorado Springs, which earmarks 20% of the estimated $6 million in annual revenue for trail acquisition and development. The program was widely supported by the business and real estate interests (two groups I spent a great deal of time bringing into the trails fold when I was director of the Pikes Peak Area Trails Coalition).
There has also been a great deal of success in gaining the financial support and political leadership of the outdoor recreation industry. But I'd like to encourage you to look beyond the obvious. Companies with no direct ties to recreation still have a stake in the values we all share: better communities, safe routes to work, environmental education, and promoting volunteerism. Our job? Give business a reason to become our partners!
The same thing applies to institutions and agencies outside our usual circle. We've seen effective trails projects involving hospitals, colleges, and public health programs. Some are employing troubled youth in restitution programs, others are working with flood control, clean water, and habitat improvement efforts. Our goal should be to understand the needs of our comunities and land managers, and get involved!
I'd like to thank all of the wonderful people who have supported American Trails during my tenure as Executive Director. We all look forward to working with Pam Gluck, the widely respected trails advocate who is taking over the job. I'll be continuing as an advisor to the Board of Directors and will be involved in various trails projects. -- Skye Ridley
Skye Ridley has accepted the position of executive director of the Diana Price Fish Foundation, a cancer patient support non-profit organization headquartered in Denver.