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Creating a vision for trails for the 21st
-- What is the state of America's nationwide trails
-- What is our shared vision of the future of trails?
-- What actions should we be pursuing to improve and develop
These are some of the questions asked at the American Trails
"Visioning" session at the recent National Trails Symposium. A
diverse group of forward-looking activists in the trails community
brainstormed the trends and issues that need most attention in the
future. They analyzed current accomplishments and proposed actions
for American Trails and the agencies and organizations we partner
with. The following issues are grouped under larger topics:
Identity and integration
- We need better information about trails: where to find them,
how to access them, who can help with them, and their levels of
- We need more consistent concepts (and training programs) for
trail planning, design, construction, and management.
- The trails community needs to document and articulate a clear
message of the benefits and value of trails for the public.
- Promote successful examples of how trails and greenways can
partner with urban planning, smart growth initiatives, and public
- Provide feedback to funders about what their funds have
- The strength of the trails community is in its grassroots
origins. We need to support grassroots organizations with better
technical information presented in new ways.
- The environment of trails
- We must realize that we are part of the natural systems around
us and use trails and greenways to promote better planning and
- There is lack of multiple land use in proximity to our homes:
some think trails are too close, and others too far, from where
- Our national tradition of "land use anarchy," the chaos of
sprawl, exemplifies the struggle between society's rights of the
commons and private property rights.
- For trails, there needs to be a balance between local and
regional control, and a consideration of everyone's involvement.
- The current configuration of urban area expansion is scaled to
cars, not bicycles or pedestrians.
- There needs to be a perception that one is safe when using a
trail (this is especially important for women, children, and the
- We should be working together with environmental groups, not
in conflict with them. Often, environmental values are seen in
opposition to recreation, not complementary to it.
- Trails can help protect large landscapes. How can we expand
our visions and our organizations from the pathway to the broader
corridor or greenway?
Reaching out and broadening our
- There is a new diversity of trail "purposes," (such as the
jazz trail, trail of knowledge, or Trail of Tears). Trail managers
need to expand their role in education and preservation.
- Trails are more than just a place to play. We should take the
concept of "trails within 15 minutes of all" to an integration of
trails into the transportation infrastructure: neighborhood
building, communication, and living on a human scale.
- We need to identify "headwaters" issues to coalesce around. We
need a lexicon of inclusiveness to broaden our sense of the
community of trails.
- Are our trails a "system" or a "collection?" A system can be
made through connections, through consistency, and through
- We have to distinguish between the National Trails System (as
created by law) and the broader, more inclusive "national system
- We need to broaden the cultural, ethnic, and economic
diversity in the trails community.
- Trails could be a way of fighting the fragmentation of
society. Different economic classes and cultural groups may need
encouragement to take advantage of opportunities that trails and
greenways provide for physical activity and enjoyment of the
- Marketing and funding strategies should emphasize that
pedestrian corridors provide essential access and travel
opportunities for people with disabilities.
- How can we stimulate our youth to be involved in trails? Many
kids get exercise today only in highly organized activities, such
as soccer. Instead of walking or bicycling to activities, kids are
- Those doing trail planning should work more with youth
organizations and youth employment efforts.
- We should embrace organizations outside the trails community
to increase cross-pollination of ideas and experience.
- There is a need for materials to better educate the general
public about trails and their benefits.
- Involve motorized groups in the broader issues of the trails
- There is a need for better networking and partnerships among
trail user groups to help them share more of their agendas and
experience with one another.
- There is a need to create an expectation of a top-quality
trail experience, an awe, which in turn creates a respectful code
of behavior like the politeness shown at symphony concerts.
- Our expectations for a better life ("trails within 15 minutes
of all Americans") may conflict with our finite resources. We need
to focus and refine our efforts to the limits and realities around
- We need to know our own history better.
- Land managers and their staff need to be educated about the
needs of trail users. They need to eliminate their personal biases
and open up their thinking.
- We need to promote building better trails that are more easily
defended. What can we realistically accomplish?
- We need to start programs for leadership development.
- Research for informed decision making
- Reliable scientific studies and statistics are needed on trail
- There is a lack of scientific data about the impacts of trail
activities on wildlife and the environment. Biased or generalized
misinformation is being used to keep trail users out.
- Trail advocates in America generally do not make use of the
knowledge and experience of other nations and cultures.
- We need to better understand and document the importance of
trails in individual and community health.
- We need a national mandate for trail planning as part of
community infrastructure planning.
- We need to develop trail systems, trails that really connect,
not isolated trails.
- Encourage creativity and flexibility. We need formal systems
and organizations, but we need to stimulate new ideas and
responses to changing opportunities.
- When land use issues arise, government may be reluctant to
act. We need to develop resources, support, and funding to deal
with controversial situations.
- Success can lead to crowding. How can we accommodate different
uses and maintain top-quality trail experiences?
- Governments struggle to maintain existing trails. We need to
find a balance of funding new construction as well as the
maintenance and improvement of trails.
- Lessen dangers and hazards through better design.
- Funding is still insufficient, even with TEA-21 and the
Recreational Trails Program. We need to support new opportunities
for funding recreation and corridor preservation.
- There is a need for consistent and sustained Federal support
for a national system of trails. Even after 30 years, most of the
National Trails System is still incomplete. We need to make this
legislation operative. and improve programs like the National
- Powerful interests do not support the trails agenda. The more
successful we are, the more attention the opposition will pay. We
need to work together to defend our successes.
- The trails community needs to respond to existing land use
patterns and to think about broader land use issues, not just what
we want as trail users.
Achieving a National System of Trails is a complex problem that
requires access to a vast array of information, technology, ideas,
and political support. Some of this information exists but is not
easily found. Our challenge is to create, collect, and disseminate
this vision to gain cooperation among all existing stakeholders and
American Trails will convene further discussions to carry this
work forward and organize efforts on behalf of realizing more
nationwide progress in establishing trails as an essential part of
America's physical and spiritual landscape.
A list of participants and more information on "a Vision for
the 21st Century" is posted on the American Trails website at:
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