Book Review: The Greenway Imperative

Jim Schmid reviews Chuck Flink's newest book "The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities and Landscapes for a Sustainable Future"

by Jim Schmid


By Charles A. Flink
March 2020, University of Florida Press
344 pages
ISBN 9781683401155

Charles A. “Chuck” Flink is widely regarded as one our leading greenway planners and designers. Google Chuck and you will find an amazing thirty-five year professional career devoted to planning, designing, and developing greenways as well as his hundreds of greenway presentations. One highlight of his career is the weekend meeting he attended in October, 1988 at Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia. It was at this meeting that members of the American Trails Network and the National Trails Council decided to merge and form American Trails. Chuck was elected board chair of the new organization and went on to serve three terms. Another community highlight is when Chuck joined the board of the East Coast Greenway Alliance in 1999 and served five terms as Chair of the Board. The trail and greenway community has not only benefited from his professional career but from his passion and desire to make a difference through volunteering.

Besides his many educational presentations at conferences and community meetings outlining how to develop greenways Chuck has coauthored two greenway planning and design books (1993 and 2001 see sidebar). These books are among a dozen in the past thirty years that are devoted to the technical aspects of greenway design and appeal mainly to planners. His new book goes beyond these “how-to” greenway books, and delves into the “who and why.”

In The Greenway Imperative Chuck presents personal stories from a few of the many greenway projects he has worked on. He shares the stories of the people and imperatives that made these projects come to life while providing detail about how each project evolved—from vision to reality. Each chapter reveals the backstory behind the making of a greenway. Of the ten greenway projects Chuck writes about I had the good fortune to be involved with three of them (Anne Springs Close Greenway, Charleston County, and the East Coast Greenway). Even though I wasn’t involved at the same time as Chuck it was fascinating to learn more about the projects and the people involved.

Fundamentally, greenways are about connections—to the land, to our communities, to each other.
—CHARLES A. FLINK, The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities and Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, 2020

Fundamentally, greenways are about connections—to the land, to our communities, to each other.

—CHARLES A. FLINK, The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities and Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, 2020

Chuck had me hooked with the first chapter which provided the backstory and his involvement with the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, South Carolina. In the 1990s when I was the State Trails Coordinator for South Carolina I met Anne through her involvement with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation. In 1994 they had the idea of developing a trail from the mountains to sea across the State of South Carolina—The Palmetto Trail. As Passages were opened my wife and I joined Anne and others on inaugural backpack trips on these passages. I also had the opportunity to work with staff at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in planning and laying out trails.

In 1996 I hosted an East Coast Greenway workshop in Pinipolis, South Carolina. It was the first time the five southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, met to discuss the greenway route in the South. Tricia Trip who worked for Chuck at Greenways Inc. attended as the North Carolina representative. Chuck took the position the next year and in 1999 he joined the Board of the East Coast Greenway and served as Chair the next twelve years.

As you can tell this review may be a bit personal. The trails and greenway community is such that we can be involved with projects at different times and not meet who came before or after our involvement. Such is the case with Chuck. I’ve met him at conferences, but never had the pleasure of working with him. I really enjoyed reading about projects that I was involved with or had an interest in. Chuck mentions the following people that I have worked with or met at conferences or workshops over the years: Anne Springs Close, Jeff Olson, Dan Burden, Andy Clarke, Mark Fenton, Peter Axelson, Betty Drake, David Burwell, Peter Harnik, John Fegan, Karen Votava, Sig Hutchinson, Ed McMahon, and Jeff Ciabotti. I’ve taken this bit of a detour to discuss projects and people I know all to say that you probably know or have worked with many of the people in Chuck’s book and this to me is what makes the book compelling—to learn more about the people who make these greenway projects possible.

The ten case studies in the book are: Anne Springs Close Greenway, Greater Grand Forks Greenway, Swift Creek Recycle Greenway, Grand Canyon Greenway, Las Vegas Open Space and Trails, Miami River Greenway, Charleston County Greenbelt Plan, Northeast Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, East Coast Greenway, and International Greenway Efforts in Belarus. These ten projects will not only inspire and inform but can provide the information to replicate the successes in communities not only in America but around the world. And perhaps like me you will learn more about projects you were involved in, projects that are in your community, or people you know.

These case studies build toward the compelling vision of a national greenway system that Chuck presents in the final chapter. Chuck believes the next step for many trail advocates is promoting connectivity since many of our trails and greenways were not designed as networks. He states that the greenway movement is entering a new phase that will produce numerous economic, social, environmental, and public health benefits as we work to connect these trails and greenways. It is not hard to imagine these greenways and trails creating the National Greenway System envisioned by Chuck. He believes that the future will see trail and greenway gaps closing, access improving, and connections happening. This vision of interconnected trails and greenway networks can provide multiple benefits for people, communities, and our economy.

I have already started to benefit from these connections. I retired in 2014 and have had the opportunity to travel the country and bicycle on many long distance rail-trails and greenways. After my own thirty years of working on trails I’m hoping to enjoy thirty years experiencing all these wonderful trails and greenways folks like Chuck are making possible. Keep up the good work.

Learn more and buy the book

For those of you new to trail and greenway development and interested in the “how-to” of greenway planning and design get yourself a copy of Trails for the Twenty-First Century: Planning, Design, and Management Manual for Multi-Use Trails. This 2001 book is a completely revised and updated edition of the 1993 book Greenways: A Guide to Planning Design and Development. Chuck Flink and Bob Searns co-authored both books. Both Chuck and Bob have been involved with greenway planning for over thirty-five years and both have served as Chair of the American Trails Board of Directors. For those of you who’ve been working on trails and greenways since the 1990s I’m sure you have copies of both books on your shelf and like I have referenced them many times. I for one am hoping that Chuck and Bob are working on a 2021 Twentieth Anniversary updated edition.

About the Author

During his career Jim Schmid served as South Carolina’s first State Trails Coordinator as well as working for the US Forest Service as a Trails Manager in AZ, ID, and FL and also had the pleasure of managing the Florida National Scenic Trail. Jim is a collector at heart. Check out his collection of trail quotes, terms, acronyms, sayings and more at jimstrailresources.wordpress.com. In addition to updating his website and writing book reviews for American Trails Jim enjoys traveling around the country riding rail-trails and mtn bike trails.

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