These are difficult times for trail advocates, residents and businesspeople who need better biking and walking options in their communities. With dedicated funding for trails under threat at the federal and state level, our nation's trailblazers are having to work harder than ever.
But Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) new report, Community Built - Stories of Volunteers Creating and Caring For Their Trails, shows us how, in the face of adversity, they are still getting it done. If you are an advocate or volunteer for a trail in your area, this report will be a terrific resource, and an inspiration to keep you going when times are tough.
One of the great stories in Community Built features the North Coast Inland Trail system in Ohio, which will one day consist of 90 miles of trail between Toledo and Lorain in the northern part of the state. Today, about 65 miles of it is open to the public. Nearly 15 miles of that, in Huron County, is managed and maintained by a volunteer-formed nonprofit known as Firelands Rails-to-Trails, Inc. (FRTTI).
When the idea to recycle to disused corridor was first raised, Huron County did not want to be involved, due to the entrenched opposition of residents and landowners. The communities surrounding the trail did not want to pay additional taxes to sponsor its creation, and defeated a proposed trail tax.
So the county handed over management to a group of local advocates, who promptly formed an incorporated nonprofit organization and used volunteers, grant money and donated equipment to build the trail. Although opposition to the trail was extensive and vocal at first, FRTTI slowly changed minds once construction began. Some of the trail's fiercest opponents eventually became vocal supporters and regular trail users.
Joe Mantey of FRTTI believes that most opposition comes from fear of the unknown.
"The keys to building a trail are writing letters and being a good neighbor," he says. "Opponents are afraid of trespassing, property values plummeting, drainage problems and similar issues. It is important for trail builders to be good neighbors and address people's concerns and fears. Firelands operated in a respectful way, building the trail in small pieces once concerns were addressed. In many sections of the trail, we did not own the right-of-way and had to obtain easements from landowners. We attended Rotary Club meetings, held open houses whenever a new section of trail was opened, and sent letters to adjacent landowners when building a trail segment. FRTTI also purposefully disassociated themselves from more strident proponents of the trail, whose zeal to implement the trail failed to consider adjacent owners' concerns and alienated them. We always think before we act, then think again and bounce it off our board. We aim not to make anyone mad."
To discover the secrets to success of Firelands Rails-to-Trails, Inc. and citizen trail groups across America, read and download Community Built at www.railstotrails.org.