We hope that Hurricane Sandy didn't wreak too much havoc on your community during the last few days.
Though the dense urban areas of New York City and northern New Jersey were the most effected, the reality is that all through the Northeast people are now dealing with fallen trees, debris, collapsed fences and power lines that, in many instances, will be partially blocking or completely closing local trail systems.
Now is the perfect time to roll up the sleeves and see what you can do help restore your local rail-trail. But how do you get involved? It's not a great idea just to grab the nearest machete and start hacking away at branches, so what is the right way to channel your energy and support?
1. Find out who's in charge. Every trail has its own managing agency. This could be your local parks department, or it could be an organized volunteer group. Finding out is not too hard. The best bet is to Google the name of the trail, and find contact information at the trail's webpage. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) trail finder website www.traillink.com includes contact information on each trail's managing agency. Simply find your local trail's page, and look under the "Related Content" bar on the right side of the page.
"Checking in with the trail manager enables local friends of the trail to better coordinate resources, provide equipment, and to make sure the most effort is being directed to sections of the trail that need it," says Tom Sexton, director of RTC's Northeast Regional Office.
2. Get a team together. The silver lining to natural disasters like this one is often the tremendous response of people and businesses in helping their community in the aftermath. Talk to your friends and neighbors, gather a party of colleagues, and take your collective strength out on the trail. Many hands make light work, and cleanups are a great way to strengthen the sense of community that already exists around local rail-trails.
3. Be safe. Trail managers and organized groups will always provide and insist on appropriate safety protocols. If you're out on your own, make sure you are visible to other trail users. Set up a safety cone or other visible marker on either side of your work area. Wear bright clothing. It goes without saying, but be very careful when using cutting tools and sharp implements. And, finally, don't try and do too much. That log might be heavier than you think. If in doubt, get someone to help you - it's always a good idea to have at least one partner on hand.
4. Document your work. Take photos, write a blog entry, or contact your local paper. Not only is it great to give credit to those who helped, but publicizing the work however you can will bring attention to both the trail and the generous community it inspires. Events like these are great opportunities to build awareness of and support for local trail groups and trail funding.
If you're having difficulty identifying the managing agency for your local rail-trail, or have other post-storm maintenance issues, contact RTC's Northeast Regional Office at 717-238-1717, or RTCNortheastOffice@railstotrails.org