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Editorial: Trails and Freedom

Will terrorism affect our trails?

From the Spring 2006 issue of American Trails Magazine

By Stuart Macdonald

"Trails are a source of renewal and spiritual value for America."

After the grief, anger, and uncertainty of the terrorist attacks in September, our thoughts turned to the wider impact. In what other ways will these tragedies affect us? For some, it will be a matter of jobs or investments. For others it will be a more intangible yet lingering fear. Eventually we will begin to ask how terrorism and its consequences affect those of us who work or volunteer for trails and greenways.

As just one example of the immediate effect on trails, many U. S. Forest Service personnel became unavailable because of duties guarding important reservoirs and other facilities.

Will more of our diminishing federal land management staff be involved in security issues at the expense of recreation?

A second impact was the closure of trails. As just one of many examples, the New Santa Fe rail trail through the Air Force Academy in Colorado was closed after September 11 and will be closed indefinitely, according to Air Force officials.

How many miles of vital trail links will be erased due to concerns about public access near government facilities? Will greenways near dams and water treatment plants be fenced off?

In the private sector, businesses and homeowners have also become more concerned about safety issues. With utility and transportation corridors providing so many miles of access routes, we may face yet more obstacles to connecting trails. Will landowners continue to allow the public on their land?

Will corporations facing security concerns still give easements through their open space and river frontages? Will rails-with-trails projects be a thing of the past?

We are also facing higher costs for travel, for police and security, for government and— for much of the economy— a higher cost of doing business.

Will this translate into fewer corporate donations? Will local and state governments see outdoor recreation as a luxury?

The downside seems pretty obvious. The tragedies put a lot of our everyday concerns into perspective, and some things just don't seem as important as they were. But during this time of reassessment, we should not forget the value of our trails, greenways, and outdoor recreation.

Trails are still a symbol of freedom for many Americans— the freedom to roam, the freedom to escape the constraints of society, the freedom to lose ourselves in the natural world. In our cities, trails provide an important outlet: the freedom to run, walk, or ride through the urban fabric, the freedom to leave vehicles behind, the freedom to enjoy parks and greenways that belong to all of us. I hope that our leaders will remember and value these personal freedoms, in addition to those cited so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence.

Another aspect of freedom lies in our ability to create, join, and nurture organizations without asking any authority for permission. Our right of free assembly makes possible the freedom to join together for the kind of action that makes trails and greenways possible.

Trails are a source of renewal and spiritual value for America. Perhaps the best thing we can do in times of stress and uncertainty is to go out on a favorite trail, or explore one thatŐs new to us. We may want to spend the time alone to reflect on the value of our outdoor experiences. Or we may want to go with family, friends, or a battalion of fellow volunteers.

Trails foster our sense of community. I was reminded vividly of this at our Colorado Trails Symposium on September 13, when smoke was still pouring from the Pentagon. Virtually everyone who had registered came to our conference, including every single speaker. Coming together after the tragedies seemed to reinforce the sense that all of us have a deep connection, and that the work we share is important.

It has never been easy to build or preserve trails. Even though we fear new disasters and disappointments in the future, let us not give up nor lose our commitment to trails and open space. Let us join together all across this beautiful and vast country to preserve freedom for future generations.

Stuart Macdonald manages the website, the American Trails Magazine, the National Trails Training Partnership (, and the National Recreation Trails Program for American Trails. He was also a member of the Regulatory Negotiation Committee of the U. S. Access Board which wrote proposed guidelines for trails under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Submit your opinion, article, or editorial to American Trails at or if you have questions call us at (530) 547-2060.

American Trails offers this website as a public resource to share ideas and opinions on trails and greenways. We have not evaluated the accuracy, feasibility, or legality of any of the material or articles. The opinions and editorials presented here do not necessarily reflect the opinion or support of American Trails. American Trails does not discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis or race, religion, nationality, or political affliiation.

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