At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. Over the past few months we have been recapping the achievements of each champion. Today we pay tribute to Linda McKenna Boxx, a woman whose name will be forever connected to one of America's great rail-trail networks.
Linda McKenna Boxx has been the driving force behind the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) since its inception in 1995. Her ability to inspire and unite the efforts of a disparate group of cities, counties, volunteer groups and federal, state and local agencies, is widely credited for the tremendous success of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which since the time of her involvement has become one of America's most popular rail-trail destinations.
McKenna Boxx pulled several trail groups together so a number of disconnected segments of the trail could be completed to make the link from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., and then connect to the C&O Canal towpath, to Washington, D.C. She has served as board president and volunteer executive director of the ATA, in the process raising more than $30 million for construction. In addition, she has helped with marketing the trail, and with design and project management of several of the missing links.
All this is more remarkable given that McKenna Boxx takes on this full time role as an unpaid volunteer. To ensure that more than 99 percent of the ATA's funding goes to building and maintaining trails, McKenna Boxx draws no salary, and the group does not maintain an office.
Born in Latrobe, Pa., McKenna Boxx graduated from Bucknell University before beginning a career in state government in Harrisburg, her home state's capital, and then Arkansas. She moved back to Latrobe in 1982 to work at the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, a nonprofit which funds recreation, conservation and community improvement projects in western Pennsylvania. She currently serves as chairperson of that organization, balancing this full-time role with her consuming position at ATA.
According to an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on being honored by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council with a Lifetime Achievement Award, it was McKenna Boxx's strong interest in environmental causes, especially the health of local waterways, which led her to form the ATA. But despite her remarkable achievements and her obvious importance to the Pennsylvania trails community, McKenna Boxx deflects the accolades.
"I'm only one person, and there have been so many who have worked on this project," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And there are the real heroes, the people who cut the grass along the trail, take care of it, who keep giving us this great product day after day."
McKenna Boxx selected the Great Allegheny Passage to receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Grant awarded in her name. The pass-through grant will be used to help build the final mile of this 141-mile network, the first nine-miles of which opened 25 years ago.