Breaking Down the Silos, Part Two

Continuing the series on bridging the barriers between trail user groups

by Mike Passo, Executive Director, American Trails

The trail industry is hard to define, but it includes a wide array of user-specific organizations, volunteer groups, professional construction firms, planning firms, and design firms, as well as much of the oft-mentioned outdoor industry.

All of these diverse constituencies to a greater or lesser degree rely on a robust trails infrastructure. Yet we have never sought to gather this energy together in one place. Perhaps the time has come to consider this idea.
A symptom of the way our trails industry has become “silo-ed,” is the proliferation of small- to medium-sized trails conferences that focus solely on one user type.

The International Trails Symposium focuses on trail professionals like designers, planners, and funders. The Professional TrailBuilders Association focuses on on-the ground technical skills for professional builders and maintenance crews.

International Mountain Bicycling Association focuses on mountain bike trails. The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council focuses on motorized trails. The National Equestrian Trails Conference focuses on equestrian trails. And there are many more examples.

Beyond that, there is almost no inclusion of the outdoor recreation industry, the planning industry, the tourism industry, or the landscape architecture industry, other than through sporadic and disperse sponsorships. All of these industries have a vested interest in preserving, maintaining, and strengthening the trails infrastructure of our country.

Imagine the synergy that could be developed if we all pooled our collective effort into a gathering that is worthy of our national trails system. What if 10,000 people could be brought together from all trail user types into one dynamic event?

We could develop policy platforms that would allow the entire trails community to speak with a common voice in the halls of Congress.

We could tackle the hard questions that will always exist between disperse users types, and understand the unique needs and desires of our fellow trail users. We could develop the public/private partnerships that will help solve the consistent maintenance backlog on our trails.

We could develop a coordinated, nation-wide volunteer network to support our trails infrastructure, empowering a whole generation to walk, ride, paddle, or run on a trail that starts at their stoop.

Ultimately, we can all agree on many of the same things:

• More trails, serving all of the different types of users, in environments that are appropriate and protected.
• Trails that are well built, enjoyable, and well maintained.
• Common understanding of the needs of each trail user type.
• All Americans to realize the value of trails to the human experience.
• Adequate funding and political support for trail infrastructure.
• Enough resources to keep our organizations, agencies, and clubs active and thriving.

I know this can’t happen immediately, and there are many small (and some large) details that would need to be worked out between now and then. But I believe this is possible, and I believe it would be a substantial step towards breaking down the silos of our trails community.

About the Author

Mike Passo is the Executive Director of American Trails. Mike has also served as the Executive Director of the Professional Trailbuilders Association and the owner and operator of a sea kayak outfitter called Elakah Expeditions. Mike has led groups of all backgrounds, ages and abilities on sea kayak expeditions in the San Juan Islands of Washington, Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Mike has conducted an extensive study of outdoor developed areas nationwide to determine the cost implications of construction according to proposed Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and a Congressional study on improving access to outdoor recreational activities on federal land. He has a B.S. in Recreation Resource Management from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, including three years’ coursework in Landscape Architecture and Civil Engineering. He has presented on Universal Design and Programming at several national conferences and served on the Board of Directors of American Trails since 2000. His love of the outdoors and his own paraplegia has given him a great interest in the creation of an accessible outdoor environment that does not ruin the characteristics and value of that environment.

Contact: [email protected]

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