Trail Voices: Carolyn Siccama
"Trail Voices" highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
For October, we spoke with Carolyn Siccama, who lives in Shelburne, Vt., with her husband Chris and daughter Carly. She recently published her first book, Rail Trail Alphabet Adventures, a children's story that takes readers on a colorful tour through a variety of rail-trail scenes. With each page, Siccama introduces a new image and letter—like "Egrets enjoying the day," for E—to capture the many experiences families can expect to enjoy on a rail-trail.
A long-time rail-trail user and supporter, Siccama teamed up with illustrator Tricia Peterson for the project. They are donating 50 percent of proceeds from books sales to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "It's been so much fun, and I've really enjoyed the process from its inception," Siccama says. "People write books for different reasons, but my heart is in this to support the trails and get people out there. I really want to help RTC as much as I can."
What inspired your idea for a rail-trail children's book?
Before I moved to Vermont, I lived right on the Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts. When my daughter was young, a few months old all the way up to 2 and 3, we would take walks on the trail. I called them "nap" walks, and we'd be out there for hours. We would just see and hear so much, turtles on the rocks, deer, various other animals. And one day I was thinking, 'I really wish there was a book I could read to her about these experiences.' I went to the library, talked the children's librarian, did some research online, and I couldn't find anything like it. That's kind of how the idea came to me about three years ago.
How did you choose the illustrator, Tricia Peterson?
I found her through RTC's Trails and Greenways Listserv. I wanted someone who knows rail-trails and understands rail-trails; I wanted someone to feel this connection that I do.
What's unique about your alphabet theme?
Working with Tricia, she had come up with this idea about putting sign language in addition to the upper case and lower case letters. I thought it was a really neat idea to add to it. My daughter is three, and she's slowly learning the little letters. There're so many different ways to read the book.
Did you have any other inspirations for your material and the scenes you chose to capture?
Primarily from the trails I'm familiar with, and the most inspiration was from the Minuteman. My other inspiration was from your magazine, Rails to Trails, reading about other trails, and especially the images. There was one picture from Alaska (Destination, Winter 2008) with a moose, so we added a moose on the last page. Hey, you can see moose on a rail-trail! You can't use the book to a guide to build a a rail-trail, but to most extents it's pretty accurate in terms of what you may see on the trail.
Why do believe rail-trails are so important?
In a word, what they bring to communities is opportunity. For instance, from a family perspective, a trail can be educational, health-promoting, a form of recreation, getting families together and outside. That's one of the goals of my book—if it inspires families to get outside, my mission has been accomplished. Then you've got the conservation and historic preservation pieces of it, restoring old depots and various components of the old train system. Then you've got tourism, business development and real estate opportunities. Our house [on the Minuteman Bikeway] sold in two days, and that's one of the reasons why. The lady wanted it because it was on the rail-trail.
Have you had a 'most memorable' moment on a rail-trail?
When my husband and I got married, we eloped and the Minuteman was our "aisle." The only requirement we had was for the Justice of the Peace to be willing to walk down the bikeway with us, in February, in a few feet of snow. That was, of course, a memorable experience.
What are your other favorite rail-trail memories?
The times when I'd ride [with my daughter] from our house on the Minuteman to the farmers market in Lexington, pick up a whole bunch of groceries, and put them in the trailer. If we had a carrot or apple, we might stop on our way home to feed these two horses, Dakota and Nixon, right along the trail. Rail-trails are transportation, and also recreation, but they add another dynamic for my daughter. I think so often what I heard on the trail was, "Come on, let's go, we're almost there." But wait, let's stop and look around on the way rather than rush to wherever we're going.