A Trail in Every Community

Posted 05/11/20 by Ryan Chao in America's Trails, Health and Wellness

Courtesy Madison County Transit

This article was originally published in the Spring-Summer 2020 issue of Rails to Trails magazine. It has been reposted here in an edited format.

As I write this, I hope that every one of you is safe and well. So much has changed in just a few short months.

With COVID-19, nearly every aspect of our lives has been altered. Entire industries have shut down, and hundreds of millions of Americans have been staying at home, dramatically changing the global economic landscape and testing our resilience in previously unimaginable ways. The long-term implications of these shifts are hard to fully predict.

In the midst of this pandemic, our country’s health-care workers, first responders and essential businesses have been on the front lines. I’m grateful for these national heroes who are putting themselves at risk, working tirelessly in the fight against the virus—a fight for our health and wellness.

It is in this spirit that safe access to the outdoors has been deemed essential.

Across the country, people have sought places within a short walk or bike ride from their homes where they can safely be active and find solace. Essential workers have relied on walking and biking routes to get to the front lines when transit or other transportation options aren’t available. And thousands of people across the country have advocated for streets to be transformed to trails during the crisis, creating more outside space for people to be active.

Through all of this, the team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been grateful to be of service. Since the spread of the pandemic, RTC has worked to respond quickly to the needs of the community—from sharing early public-health guidance on ways to be active outdoors while practicing social distancing, to providing resources to support trail managers as they adapt to surges in trail use to keep people safe. As we heard that more and more parks and trails were forced to close or limit facilities, we led the national charge to encourage cities to close specific streets to vehicle traffic, creating more safe places for people to be outside. And as Congress navigates ways to support the nation in its recovery, our team is advocating for trails and active transportation to be included.


As I reflect in this time of tumult and trauma, I’m grateful for this meaningful work and to go through this experience with a supportive family. My daughters, Sophie and Naomi, are teenagers. Over the years, they lost some of the close connection they had as young girls. Their bond has been rekindled by their extended time together—much of it spent riding their bikes close to home and sewing face masks to donate to local hospitals. Time has been a gift we’ve been lucky to have during this challenging moment.

Many of the things the nation has found gratitude for—the outdoors, family, community—give us hope as we look to the future. This crisis has made clear to the country that safe access to the outdoors is vital for the well-being of people and places. It has also brought into sharp focus the need for many more trails to equitably provide space to be active as well as safe transportation routes for everyone.

Moving forward, we know trails will play a vital role in the economic recovery of our country. Trails will help each of us heal and reconnect with our communities and environment. In this new future, we will do all we can to create a trail in every community.

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.

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