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  Keith Laughlin at Flat Branch Park in Columbia, Mo. © Jennifer Kaleba/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Keith Laughlin at Flat Branch Park
in Columbia, Mo.

A Call to Action

Until a short time ago, I had planned to use this space to herald Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th anniversary. What began in 1986 as a great idea has now matured into a powerful and inspiring movement that has created 19,000 miles of rail-trail, enjoyed by tens of millions of Americans every year. While preserving the past, rail-trails have become an undeniable part of America's transportation future.

It is for the sake of that future that I'm setting aside the usual pomp and circumstance of an anniversary announcement and asking, instead, for your attention to a critical issue that demonstrates the importance of our 25-year history working for trails.

AAA Mid-Atlantic recently proposed that federal gas tax revenues be spent exclusively on highways, and not be used to fund trails, walking and biking programs—as they have, very successfully, for the past 20 years. If this proposal were to become law, federal programs like Transportation Enhancements, which have made possible thousands of miles of trails and bicycle facilities around the country, would be eliminated. We cannot allow that to happen.

If approved by our lawmakers, this policy would roll back 20 years of progress toward building a more balanced transportation system that gives us the choice of whether to walk, bike, take transit or drive.

So we've launched a petition to convince AAA that tens of thousands of Americans—including many of their own members—oppose this backwardlooking position. I've written to AAA National, asking them to disavow the stance their local chapter is taking on this national issue, and to support our Campaign for Active Transportation that seeks more funding for balanced, equitable, healthy transportation choices—not less.

AAA says that we are mischaracterizing their position. We are not. They claim to be pro-bike, but the position AAA Mid-Atlantic has taken says otherwise. Simply put, they cannot have it both ways. AAA cannot claim to support bike use, trail trips and programs like Safe Routes to School, and then call for the elimination of the funding that makes these activities possible. And to imply that this hard-won funding can be found elsewhere during a time of shrinking budgets is disingenuous at best.

That is why Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was founded 25 years ago—to preserve our past and transform our future. That is why so many of you became members, to promote and protect rail-trails and the link they provide to our railroading heritage. No matter how you use or value trails, we respectfully ask that you take the time to add your name to our petition. I can think of no better way to celebrate 25 years of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy than to rally our many dedicated members in defense of rail-trails!

Happy Trails!

Keith Laughlin

Winter 2011

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037