Kelly Pack developed her trails and mountaineer spirit growing up in West Virginia.
Pack, at left, running on the Deckers Creek
Rail-Trail, part of the larger Mon
River trail system.
Trail Voices: Kelly Pack
"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 January, we spoke with one of our own: Kelly Pack, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) manager of trail development. Growing up in West Virginia, Pack says trails and outdoors activities were always a big part of her life. She later graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in English and plans to be an English teacher. But her outdoorsy roots won out, and she returned to school and earned a masters degree in recreation, parks and tourism.
Today, Pack gets to work hands-on with trail advocates and planners all over the country. We caught up with her for the New Year to learn where she finds her passion, and how she continues to make trails an important part of her life and career.
Do you remember your first experience with a rail-trail?
I do. It was in college at West Virginia University, I think my second year. I'd gained a little weight, and a friend of mine and I were looking for places to walk. So we went down to the new amphitheatre in Morgantown and noticed there was a newly paved trail there, called the Mon River Rail-Trail. We just started walking and going for several miles in a loop back to my house. After that discovery, I ended up making it almost part of my daily routine. I lost my freshman 15, and I even trained for a half-marathon on it.
What kind of work do you get to do as manager of trail development for RTC?
In addition to specific trail project work, I actually get out to see trails and meet the people who help develop them—kind of share in their enthusiasm for the trails coming up in their communities. I get to learn more about their experience and some of the barriers to developing trails when they first started. On some projects, I do a lot of outreach to local leaders, helping equip them with the tools they need to talk positively about trails to their colleagues and community members.
In some cases, I do in-depth property research to determine how a community might go about acquiring a corridor for trail use. And more generally, I provide technical assistance to people all over the country who have specific questions about rail-trails. That can be as general as explaining how trails benefit a community, or something specific like helping decide what type of surface is best for particular trail.
I also help maintain and update the "Trail-Building Toolbox" section of the Web site, RTC's resource center for trail builders and advocates.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I would say, whether it's over e-mail, the telephone or face to face, the most exciting part of my job is feeling like I've actually helped someone get the resources they need to build trails in their community—to make their vision a reality. I get to connect them with others across the country, and really see how there's a whole network and family of trail builders and advocates.
What's one of the most exciting projects you're working on right now with RTC?
Right now, we're looking at how to connect urban communities and provide them with better access to urban trails. It's a program that we hope to implement nationally. We're going to be working in several urban areas around the country to help communities take advantage of trails that already exist, or help them develop some projects that might be stuck in the planning process. That's probably what I'm looking forward to the most.
What advice would you give to individuals and organizations looking to build trails in their communities?
There are so many people out there who have been doing the work for many, many years, and a lot of them are more than excited to help you learn and become your mentor. A big part of my graduate education was having to look outside my program and into the community to be educated. Also, it's important to realize that not everyone is going to like your project right away, and that there are many avenues of communicating with people who are hesitant about trails coming into their community. Be open to knowing that you can't do it all.
When you're not in the office, how else do you use rail-trails?
My most favorite summertime activity is getting on the Capital Crescent Trail in D.C. and riding almost eight miles to the Montgomery County pool. After that uphill climb, I get to jump in the nice cold water and then ride back home.
Do you have any special rail-trail trips planned for 2009?
I'd really like to complete the trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C,. and test out my brand-new Jamis touring bike. Going to college in north-central West Virginia, I visited the Pittsburgh area a lot, and I'm excited to revisit the spots I know so well, but to see them from a different perspective. The cool thing is going to be riding my bike from Pittsburgh to my doorstep here in D.C.