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We've come a long way... Activism at American Trails

The National Trails Symposium continues a long tradition of working together for trails.

By Hulet Hornbeck

American Trails celebrates a 15-year anniversary this year! The result of a 1988 merger of the American Trails Network and the National Trails Council, American Trails continues the tradition of hosting a National Trails Symposium every two years.

"The continuity of American Trails bringing the trails community together has helped foster the dramatic increase in the popularity of trails over the years."

I'm reminded that the tradition began in late spring of 1971, when 100 volunteers and agency representatives attended the first national trails symposium in the country held in Washington, DC, I asked, "Now, what do we do tomorrow?" Then we formed the National Trails Council later that same year in Chicago to continue the work begun at the Symposium. I said we needed to make it a biennial conference– so the continuity would be there.

The continuity of American Trails bringing the trails community together has helped foster the dramatic increase in the popularity of trails over the years. Today, the Symposium brings together over 700 attendees and last year's Symposium was the largest "trails partnership" ever with over 143 sponsors!

It has been said that, "The singular most dynamic volunteer effort in the last 100 years has been trails." Government sets a priority much higher where there is wide citizen volunteer participation. That's what these Symposiums reflect. Over the years, there has been great agency and volunteer support for trails, but volunteers have more staying power. Even after they retire-- they hang around-- like yours truly!

The leaders in the trails community have long been preaching the correlation between trails and healthy minds, bodies, spirits and communities. It is so rewarding that our decision makers and the health community are finally "getting" this correlation.

One thing is for certain: One cannot read the future. When I pass by a trail along an old canal right-of-way in Walnut Creek, I never fail to see several clusters of walkers, bicyclists, and even shoppers-- wheeling their shopping carts. We told our community leaders this would be the case. You build them and they will come-- you build them near shopping centers and they will shop!

Our dream was that trails should be thought of as "infrastructure." Who would have expected trails to be a big factor in highway programs? Today, trails are more and more considered an essential service with big dollars flowing to them across the country. No one in 1971 would have thought of building a wildlife bridge like the Marjorie Harris Carr Land Bridge outside of Ocala, Florida-- spanning six lanes of freeway and costing millions of dollars. And-- government doing it! We have changed, for the good, the culture of this country. What will the next 15 years bring us? The theme of the 17th National Trails Symposium, October 21-24, 2004, is "21st Century Lifestyles: The Emerging Role of Trails in the New American Culture." Join us in Austin as we continue to work together to create the future of trails!

Hulet Hornbeck has served on the American Trails' Board for several periods over the years and is cumulatively the longest-serving Board member. He brings to the Board the wisdom of his 83 years involved with conservation and parkland and trails acquisition.

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