Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was super excited to learn that one of our own, Avery Harmon, was designated out of more than 150 applicants nationwide as one of 30 “Emerging Leaders” by SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow), a program of The Center for Jackson Hole, in Wyoming.
Now entering its fourth year, The SHIFT Festival was designed to spur dialogue about, and bring to the forefront, topics and issues related to conservation, the environment and outdoor recreation. The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) seeks to train outdoor recreationists—with a focus on diversity and inclusion—to help revitalize conservation by “making it relevant to all Americans.” This is done in conjunction with The Teton Science Schools, and participants receive three days of training in advance of The SHIFT Festival, so they can help lead the proceedings. Awesome, right?
This year’s festival, which takes place Oct. 16–18, will explore the health benefits of time outside: how outdoor recreation on our public lands creates a healthier citizenry, attracts new customers to the outdoor industry, promotes stewardship and advances quality of life in communities across America.
As the community outreach coordinator for the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition, an RTC TrailNation™ Project, Harmon is doing just that—as he focuses on creating partnerships and local synapses to help develop a 35-mile trail network in the city. Harmon has been working hard to engage the project’s 50+ partners, with a current focus on completing trail gaps along the Gwynns Falls corridor and in south Baltimore.
For decades, several neighborhoods, primarily neighborhoods of color, have been isolated from public outdoor space and transit, making it difficult to be physically active outdoors or reach destinations around the city. Currently, nearly one in three people in Baltimore are without access to a car.
When complete, the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network will effectively connect 50 neighborhoods, providing residents with new safe walking and biking access to parks, employment centers, educational institutions, shopping areas and cultural sites.
Former rail lines, industrial coastlines and reconfigured roadways will be transformed from barriers in the built environment to community-based assets centered on trails. This will change the way Baltimore residents work, live and play—and generate myriad long-term impacts related to social equity, health, environmental conservation, active transportation and economic development.
Prior to joining the RTC team in 2017, Harmon—a Connecticut native who graduated from Loyola University—worked closely with Baltimore residents as a teaching fellow at Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys and then as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the University of Maryland. Through these experiences, Harmon became fascinated with the intimate relationship between the built environment and quality-of-life outcomes for predominantly African-American communities.
Through SHIFT, Harmon joins a group of outdoor leaders whose work includes academic research on the benefits of time outside, expeditions for veterans with disabilities, urban planning, healthcare, storytelling and personal narrative. Hailing from 16 states, they’ll converge in Jackson on Oct. 12 to prepare for integration into The 2018 SHIFT Festival.
“It’s exciting to join this cohort of young people from across the nation who have focused their work on the relationship between the environment and their communities,” said Harmon. “Through SHIFT’s Emerging Leaders Program, I look forward to gaining valuable insights and best practices that can be applied in Baltimore as we seek to create equitable walking and biking networks that benefit all the city’s residents.”
Congratulations, Avery. Keep up your amazing—and very impactful—work!
Learn more about the Baltimore Greenway Trails Initiative and how you can get involved.