Building a Brighter Future

Posted 07/02/20 by Ryan Chao in America's Trails

Photo by Side A Photography
Special thanks to RTC President Ryan Chao for this—the latest post in his monthly series on the role of trails in connecting the nation, and creating healthy, thriving communities across America.

Each year, we have the privilege and duty to report to our community the progress we made in support of our mission to connect trails nationwide. It’s a chance for us to reflect on our collective impact and recognize how those efforts propel the trails movement forward.

As I write this in July 2020, and reflect on the invaluable contributions we made together in Fiscal Year 2019 (October 2018–September 2019) to create healthier places for healthier people, it’s a massive understatement to say that we’re living in a very different world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every dimension of daily life and set in place dramatic economic and cultural shifts. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been honored to be of service in this moment—helping people safely maintain health and wellness to endure the pandemic, and committing to put an even greater focus on equity and inclusion in all our work and programs. 

The pandemic has made clear that trails are essential assets for the well-being of people and places, and our country needs a trail in every community. While FY 2019 in many ways seems like a distant time, our work last fiscal year, and in the decades leading up, positioned us to meet the current moment and be part of helping to shape a brighter future. 

Ryan Chao addressing the crowd at the Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in Washington, D.C., in May 2019 | Courtesy RTC
Ryan Chao addressing the crowd at the Great American Rail-Trail preferred route reveal in Washington, D.C., May 2019 | Courtesy RTC

For a brighter future, we need networks of interconnected trails in cities and towns linked together by regional spines. Last year we advanced cutting-edge trail networks through our TrailNation™ initiative in eight cities and regions around the country. And FY 2019 was also the year we launched our most ambitious project ever, the Great American Rail-Trail, the first multiuse trail that will span the United States—an entirely bikeable and walkable route between Washington, D.C., and Washington State separated by vehicle traffic. Since then, the Great American has become a symbol of what our country can do together and the experiences we yearn for when we recover from the pandemic.

For a brighter future, we need the policies and programs that can fund trail development and transportation alternatives at scale. Last year, we advanced visionary reauthorization of the federal transportation bill to dramatically increase funding for trails and prioritize connectivity. Concurrently, we helped states increase funding for trails and introduce innovative new policies. Since then, we’ve positioned trails to be key parts of investments in infrastructure and our country’s economic recovery.

For a brighter future, we need to make trails accessible and well-known to everyone. Last year, we continued to expand the reach and power of TrailLink, the nation’s foremost resource for finding trails. In FY 2019, was visited by 7.2 million trail users—many of whom make up the next generation of leaders in our national movement. Since then, visits to TrailLink have continued to skyrocket, and use of trails across the nation has never been higher.

As #TeamRTC, we look back on FY 2019 with modest pride in our accomplishments and gratitude to be in a place and role to help our country endure the challenges of this moment. We are humbled to be part of a community that is finding opportunity in these circumstances—working toward a more connected and inclusive nation.

Personally, I look back on FY 2019 with appreciation for the opportunity to join a special organization and inspiring movement. Thank you for all of your support up until now and your partnership moving forward.



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