The people who were there still remember it vividly--- the passionate, inspirational speech given by Ron Sims, then executive of King County, Wash., at Portland University in 2007.
Speaking before a large crowd of trail advocates, planners and regional officials gathered for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) TrailLink 2007conference on active transportation, Sims announced his grand vision for the role trails, biking and walking would play in his county, and across America in the near future.
"Will we be the generation that fails the next by providing them less of a quality of life?" he asked. "Or will we give them a better quality of life than they have today? Trail systems are going to be integral to that quality of life. They're going to be important in every facet of the next generation--they will not be able to escape their benefits. And we must put them in place, to provide options, and choices."
A few moments later he made a firm promise, that King County would one day oversee the completion of what was at that point a public project with a decidedly uncertain future: to build a multi-use trail along the out-of-service 42-mile Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line running north-south through the heart of the county.
"We are going to have our corridor," Sims said. "We are going to make it work, because this trail is important to our region's future."
With the proposed Eastside Rail Trail (ERT) at that time facing stern opposition from some camps, and apathy in others, Sims' battle cry may have seemed somewhat optimistic.
Five years later, however, it looks as if the old saying is true-- where there's a will, there's a way.
Last week the elected council of Kirkland, a key city along the ERT route, authorized the purchase of 5.75 miles of the corridor, an important step in transforming the former rail line into a transportation and recreation resource for King County's growing population.
RTC's Western Regional Office has been keeping a close eye on the ERT's progress, which, since about 2005, has advanced in fits and starts.
"We are cheering on Kirkland's vision and leadership in advancing this project," says Laura Cohen, director of the Western Regional Office. "Their neighbor to the east, Redmond, is moving full steam ahead with a plan to develop their section of the trail, also. This is shaping up to be a tremendous resource for the whole region."
When complete, the ERT will pass within a half-mile of more than 500,000 people, and some of the country's fastest growing cities, as well as Google's growing Kirkland campus, and a future high-density urban center in Totem Lake. It will also connect to 125 miles of existing trails.