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

From Town to Town, the Same Energy

It's a good thing I don't mind living out of a suitcase. In recent months my work has taken me from Maine to Texas and from Florida to California—with many stops in between. But no matter how physically worn down I might feel from all the air travel, each visit with trail users and advocates proves incredibly refreshing. Because wherever I go, one thing is constant: People want more safe places to walk and bike in their community.

In Maine, there is a deep understanding that creating "active communities" is the perfect antidote to the obesity crisis. In Texas, I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of local trail and bicycle activists. In Florida, I worked with a railroad dedicated to building rail-trails in the communities it serves. In California, bike industry executives are making the case for trail building because they know they will sell more bikes if potential customers who don't want to ride in auto traffic have a safe and convenient alternative.

In all of my travels, I always visit local trails and witness firsthand their popularity with residents, who consider these pathways essential to the quality of life they enjoy. My neighborhood in Washington, D.C., is no different. Our Capital Crescent Trail is so popular that it's clogged with users on a sunny summer day.

But the contrast in attitudes between the users of the Capital Crescent Trail on one side of town, and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill on the other side, could not be starker. While we love our trail and are grateful for the federal funding that made it possible, there is a small but powerful group of senators and representatives in Congress who believe the federal government should only build roads.

These lawmakers refuse to acknowledge that cost-effective investments in trails can help solve numerous national problems, such as traffic congestion and chronic physical inactivity. In the last year alone, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has had to fend off numerous attempts to eliminate federal support for trail building. But we have prevailed so far because trails are wildly popular at the local level, and trail users are not shy about contacting their elected representatives.

So, if you have already added your voice to the ever-growing chorus of trail users, thank you. If you have not yet contacted your elected officials, please do so. Sometimes it's easier to express disappointment or outrage, but unexpected words of encouragement in a letter or email, or even a phone call, can be equally effective and persuasive.

We can't let Congress forget the enduring value of trails, and I want to thank you—our members and supporters across the country—for renewing my faith in this truth with every trip I take.

Happy Trails!

Keith Laughlin

Fall 2012

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