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June 2012 - RTC TrailBlog

  • From Razor Wire to Postcard Shot - New Bridge a Fine Feature in Gainesville, Fla.

    By Laura Stark

    There's no way to put this nicely: the Southwest 13th Street bridge was just plain ugly. But construction is currently under way to transform the Gainesville, Fla., pedestrian overpass--which once featured cage-like siding and razor wire on top-  into a magnificent gateway feature for the city. The Depot Avenue Rail-Trail, which runs across the structure, will undoubtedly benefit from the project.

    "You didn't feel comfortable going on the old bridge," says Diane Gilreath, project manager for the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, which is responsible for the structure. "It felt abandoned, like you shouldn't really be there. The new bridge not only makes you want to be there, but brings more people to this section of the rail-trail."

    The agency's concept for the bridge was something that would represent not only the city's history, but also its present day and future. That vision came to life in a remarkable design from Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc., that featured a railroad track--representing the railroad commerce upon which the city was founded--twisted into a double-helix DNA strand to embody the research and advances in biotechnology being conducted at the University of Florida and Shands Hospital.

    Although still under construction and months from completion, the striking design is already attracting attention.

    "People drive by and pull out their cell phone cameras," says Gilreath, "and their mouths gape open."

    Not surprisingly, an observation platform providing a prime photo opportunity is being built into the bridge, along with a stairway that will take travelers on street level up to the rail-trail, a connection that was never available before. As many residents--particularly students--also use the route at night, white lighting was added throughout the structure to increase safety, which will have the effect of making the bridge quite dramatic after dark.

    "What people perceive on the bridge during the day and what they perceive at night will be completely different," says Gilreath. "The bridge is not going to disappear at night."

    And the choice to use energy-efficient LED lighting is just one example of many environmentally friendly considerations made for the project. Another is a rain garden, which will transform the slope under the rail bridge into a series of terraces that allow stormwater to soak into the soil, rather than wash down into the street.

    Farther east, the trail leads to a historical train depot, which is currently being renovated and will house a museum, visitor center and café. That's just one of many improvements slated for the aptly named Depot Park, where the 1860 building is situated. The park will be a hub of recreational activity, including trails that lead all over the city and beyond, such as the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Park Trail that whisks visitors out of the busy downtown area and into beautiful natural surroundings teeming with wildlife.

    Those anxious to see the new bridge and restored depot will have to wait until the fall, when both projects are scheduled to be completed. But, when they do visit, says Ron Sill, the lead designer for RS&H, "There's absolutely nothing like it. If you see the bridge, you'll never forget it."

    Photo and concept drawing courtesy of Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc.

  • Transportation Bill a Step Back

    The Federal Transportation Bill finally presented to Congress today takes a step back from key reforms of recent decades, says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Vice President of Policy and Trail Development Kevin Mills.

    "It shrinks from the challenge of meeting America's need for forward-looking 21st century policy that provides balanced transportation choices and improves public health and safety, the quality of our environment and the livability of our communities," Mills says.

    "From a broad transportation reform perspective, there are many reasons for concern, including misguided transportation priorities and gutting of provisions that ensure public input and consideration of the environment in transportation decisions."

    "The core programs that support trails, bicycling and walking are seriously compromised, but not undone," he says.

    Much as in the Senate bill, the most significant changes include:

    • Merging the three core trail and active transportation programs - Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and Recreational Trails  -and forcing TE and SRTS to compete for severely limited dollars against expensive new eligibilities, including some road projects;
    • Reducing the initial amount of funds available to these programs by 25-30 percent, and greatly increasing the ability of states to transfer funds away from these core programs which could multiply the loss; and
    • On the positive side, the bill will provide for greater local access to the funds through sub-allocation for larger communities (regions of 200,000+) and focusing of state administered funds on local needs (except where states opt out altogether).

    In addition, a new Complete Streets policy that was in the Senate bill to require routine accommodation of all roadway users was not included in the final bill.

    "Some in Congress sought to undermine these vital trail and active transportation programs in more fundamental ways than the bill we have now," Mills says. "It is a credit to RTC's supporters and organizational allies that these more reactionary views did not carry the day. There are scores of people across the country working hard for a better transportation system for America - as volunteers, as advocates, as planners - people who are passionate about trails and know that active transportation is good for their communities. Because trails, bicycling and walking are critical to communities of all sizes and types, they will remain a vibrant part of America's transportation future."

    Final passage of the bill is expected by Saturday.



  • Transportation Bill Likely To Be Filed This Evening: Bad News for America

    Breaking news from Capitol Hill is the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill is likely to be filed this evening.

    It looks as though our earlier information was correct; that Congressional leaders have decided that walking and biking are not part of the American transportation system. This is very bad news for the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs, which require less than two percent of federal surface transportation spending to make it safe and practical for 12% of trips to be taken on foot or by bicycle.This photograph on the right is the Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pa., one of thousands of projects across America made possible by Transportation Enhancements since 1992.

    The House spin on the bill is expected to be that highway funds must be spent on high-priority infrastructure projects that support economic activity - rather than bike paths and beautification efforts.

    This Congress is telling you that money spent on bike paths, sidewalks, bike lanes and trails is "wasted." Clearly they are not paying attention to the fact that spending on trails and active transportation is the most cost-effective use of transportation funds to enable people to get around affordably and to improve health, safety and the environment. Clearly they are not paying attention to the 83 percent of Americans, and 1,300 mayors of our biggest cities, who have asked that funding for active transportation be maintained or increased.

    What do you think about that?

    Help us tell Congress this bill is not the America you had hoped for! Stay tuned to railstotrails.org tomorrow - we will be mobilizing opposition to this bill to prevent Congress turning America's progress backward.


  • Trails Are Not Important For America?

    America - are you ready for more traffic congestion, sprawl, obesity, fumes and oil dependence?

    Right now, U.S. Congress is preparing to release a reauthorization of the Federal Transportation Bill that looks set to decimate funding for walking and biking infrastructure in favor of more spending on highways.

    Information on the particulars of the bill is scarce, because the small group of senators and representatives involved are holding their negotiations behind closed doors.

    But we understand that the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, which for the last 20 years has been the largest, and only dedicated federal, source of funding for trails, walking and biking infrastructure, will be scrapped. There are also reports that Safe Routes to Schools has been eliminated, and the information about the Recreational Trails program, another major source of funding for America's trails, is ominous.

    Supporters of this disastrous transportation legislation that would undo more than 20 years of innovation and efficiency gains are framing it as a "jobs bill." The reality is that with roughly equivalent funding levels and little long-term security, the promise of significant job gains is dubious, and will certainly be outweighed by a rollback of decades of progress in promoting balanced transportation choices.

    Make no mistake, if this bill emerges it represents Congress telling you that "Trails Are Not Important For America."

    RTC will continue to monitor developments and notify you of significant decisions.

    Be ready to oppose this bill, and do your part in the fight for trails, biking and walking!

  • New York, Illinois and Nevada - America Needs You!

    U.S. Representative John Mica (R-Fla.) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are right now intensely negotiating to hammer out a federal transportation bill before the current extension of the law expires this Saturday. The core programs that support trails, walking and bicycling are top points of contention in these last-minute negotiations.

    Unfortunately, reports from these talks bode ill for the programs that have built America’s wonderful trails and helped improve pedestrian safety – Transportation Enhancements (TE) and Safe Routes to School (SRTS). TE is our nation’s largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling, and SRTS improves safety for schoolchildren across America.

    A deal appears near, but it is not too late to put the pressure on the elected officials who hold sway over these negotiations.

    We are focusing our efforts on Senate leadership. So, if you live in New York, Illinois or Nevada, we need you!

    New Yorkers – call Sen. Charles Schumer at his New York office: 212.486.4430.

    Illinoisans – call Sen. Richard Durbin at his Chicago office: 312-353-4952.

    Nevadans - call Sen. Harry Reid at his Las Vegas office: 702-388-5020.

    What do you say? Urge your elected official to intervene in the closed door Transportation Bill negotiations to preserve dedicated funding for TE and SRTS. Please emphasize that you don’t want states declining to participate in these programs.

    Many thanks for your swift action.


  • Preparation Key to Successful Trails Tourism

    RTC's Jake Lynch is out on the 2012 Greenway Sojourn from June 17 to 24. He's visiting towns and exploring trail-related businesses along the route from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., and blogging about some of his experiences. 

    One lesson I have learned visiting the towns and small cities along the route of the Greenway Sojourn this week is that successful trail tourism doesn't happen by accident.

    Places in like Confluence, Pa., and Cumberland, Md., which have been very successful in connecting trail users to their local economies, have managed it through study and effort. Allegheny County, for example, employs a person for the express purpose of keeping business owners in Cumberland up to date on trail tours passing through, and creating events and reasons for those trail users to stay overnight. In Confluence, the bike store and lodging places have worked hard over the years to make the town a must-stop destination. For the past few days I have been hearing from businesses in these communities that they are really looking forward to our visit. They are well coordinated and prepared.

    But some of the towns we have visited were not quite as prepared. Months prior to the Sojourn, organizers called and emailed local chambers of commerce and visitor hubs, with the heads-up that on these dates a large group of riders would be in their main street, most likely looking for something to eat, a cold drink and supplies. Despite this outreach, the advance notice didn't reach everyone, and a number of diners were closed on those days, and some businesses kept to their regular business hours and therefore missed the after-dinner rush of riders looking for cold ice cream or a beer.

    Many of the businesses that were besieged by 50 or 60 hungry riders struggled to cope, happy but flustered. I heard them say if they had of known we were coming they could have put on more staff for the occasion. Not keen for a long wait, some Sojourners moved on and looked for somewhere else to dine.

    Even though communication of the Sojourn's arrival didn't reach all of the individual shop owners, some entrepreneurs were clearly proactive and a little online searching for any organized bike tours coming their way. That's how the owners of C&O Cycle knew the Sojourn was due this week. That morning they sent their young son up the trail a mile to greet bikers and give them information on what was available in town.

    I have no doubt that this time next year, those businesses that were caught unawares will keep their eyes peeled. And that's always been one of the great successes of the Sojourn--not only bringing attention to the trails themselves, but priming the trail communities to convert those bikes into bucks.

    Photo of Weavers Bakery and Restaurant, a popular stop for lunch in Hancock, Md., during the Sojourn; by Jake Lynch/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 

  • Concerns Grow Over Transportation Bill

    House and Senate leaders are making a renewed push to forge an agreement on a new federal transportation bill this week. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the effort to reconcile House and Senate priorities, and Rep. John Mica (R-FL) have been engaged in negotiations to hammer out a bill before the current extension of the law expires June 30. The core programs that support trails, walking and bicycling have been top points of contention in these last-minute negotiations.

    There is heavy pressure from a vocal group of House members to undercut Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School beyond compromises made in the bills under negotiation. We've just learned that a tentative deal may have been reached, but early reports are not promising for trails, walking and bicycling.

    "The rumor mill reports that Sen. Boxer and Rep. Mica have reached an agreement on their sections of a surface transportation bill," says Keith Laughlin, president of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "Details are not yet available, but I have a sinking feeling that federal funding for trails, walking and bicycling has been thrown under the bus. I would love to be proven wrong."

    Stay tuned for more updates as more information becomes available.

  • Thanks to Towpath, Cycling Culture Thriving in Williamsport, Md.

    RTC's Jake Lynch is out on the 2012 Greenway Sojourn from June 17 to 24. He's visiting towns and exploring trail-related businesses along the route from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., and blogging about some of his experiences. 

    The first person I met in Williamsport, Md., was the town clerk, Donnie Stotelmyer. He was on the phone with the local fire chief, finding a way to hook us up with water for a giant shower truck and 250 hot and thirsty riders. A few moments earlier he had opened the restrooms in town hall for us to use, organized a discount rate at the swimming pool, and was generally bending over backwards to accommodate the droves of arriving riders on the 2012 Greenway Sojourn.

    "There's a bike shop down the road--he'll get you whatever you need," Stotelmyer said. "There's an ice cream place on the corner there, and the Desert Rose Cafe on the other corner has free wi-fi and is open 'til six. You need anything else, you just let me know."

    It's great to see such encouragement of trail tourism coming from the municipal level. The city's willingness and ability to make it easy for large groups like the Sojourn to camp close to town is often the difference between a night's stay and a bypass.

    But according to Scotty at River City Cycles on the main street, trail events like the Sojourn have a minimal long-term impact on his business. At first, this insight left me a little deflated.

    "Ninety-nine percent of my customers are locals," he said. So, there must be a pretty strong biking community here in the area, then?

    Turns out there is, much of it sustained and encouraged by the close proximity of trails like the C&O Canal towpath. So here we have trails boosting the local economy not as a tourist amenity but a facilitator of local activity.

    And it's growing. Scotty's business was up 26 percent in the last financial year, and that was up on a record year the one previous. He says a lot of people are choosing to vacation closer to home, given the nation's economic woes. He also attributes an increase in biking to a growing awareness of the obesity crisis, and people's efforts to get fit.

    Luckily for the people of Williamsport, they have somewhere terrific to ride, walk or run.

    I went a few doors down the main street to the wonderful Desert Rose Cafe to have a cold drink and plug in for some wi-fi to write this post. Everyone in there had heard about the Sojourn coming to town and was eager for some trail traffic.

    "The trail is the best tourism we have," said the owner, Rose. She had been following the development of a rail-trail project nearby and was very aware of the benefit of destination tours and trail loops.

    But her business is a great example of the challenges we still face in making the Sojourn, and group rides like it, equal solid business for the local stores--the Desert Rose Cafe is a few blocks from the trail, there are no signs near the trail pointing to it, and the Sojourn is fully catered anyway so many riders are unwilling to pay for another meal.

    But, like Scotty, she said a solid local community of bikers and hikers, many of whom want healthful food options, sustains the business year-round. And Rose understands that building a business into a visitor attraction sometimes takes time. When these riders, or their friends, return to the area for another trip, they'll remember the place, word will get around. The trails community supports and patronizes its favorite places. And you won't find it on the menu, but if you're looking for some local history info, in this area famed for the battles of the Civil War, visit the Desert Rose and ask for Alan. You'll get a unique local history lesson along with your great coffee and sandwich--exactly the sort of local experience that makes the Desert Rose, and Williamsport, a trail destination with a great future.

    Photo of Alan and Rose outside the Desert Rose Cafe in Williamsport, Md., by Jake Lynch/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 

  • In Brunswick, Md., Trail Business is Booming

    RTC's Jake Lynch is out on the 2012 Greenway Sojourn from June 17 to 24. He's visiting towns and exploring trail-related businesses along the route from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., and blogging about some of his experiences.

    I had read plenty of data and economic reports about the financial impact of trails tourism. And I had seen the trailhead parking lots full of vehicles with bike racks and horse trailers, seen the trail wayfinding signs going up outside small town burrito places, cafes and grocery stores. But arriving yesterday afternoon in Brunswick, a small town along the C&O Canal towpath in Maryland, I saw and felt the phenomenon of trail tourism like never before.

    I was the outsider in a car, having driven in with a bunch of ride supplies from Washington, D.C. First thing I saw was a group of five or six riders mulling outside a newly opened bike store; a compact, quiet, cinematic main street; one stop light; a place called Mommer's, a diner, an ice cream store, a sign welcoming home local troops.

    The next block along, I saw a genuine crowd. Outside Beans in the Belfrey--cafe set inside a beautiful old church--were a dozen bikes, and more riders looking for somewhere to lock theirs. Inside, the place was packed. There was barely a spare seat, and of the 30 or so patrons, 28 of them were riders on the Sojourn.

    I had to wait until the line went down until I could speak to the owner and ask her whether she notices if the trail has much of an impact on her business.

    "Days like this the trail is the business," she said, between customers. A few minutes later a third employee arrives to help with the rush.

    Out on the main street, I met a guy handing out an informational brochure of businesses and services available in Brunswick, and how to get to them. His name was Walt Stull, and he was one of those guys that every small community seems to have--councilmember, historian, on the board of the local railroad museum. We started talking, and I explained to him that I was from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and was working on a video about the economic impact of trail tourism.

    "As soon as I heard you guys were coming through, I called all the businesses and told them to stay open, even though it's a Monday," Stull said. He gave me a bunch of the brochures to take down to the Sojourn camp. Back there, I heard at least a dozen people talking about the cafe in the old church, stories of who bought what at the bike shop.

    But looking more critically, it isn't all bikes and bucks for the people of Brunswick. No doubt for every big day like this one, with 250 riders coming through in one hit, there are lulls, winters, ordinary mid-weeks. This kind of peak and trough commercial cycle doesn't often sustain a robust local economy in the long run.

    But the good news for the people of cities and towns like Brunswick is that biking and trails tourism are built on the most sustainable of passions: the outdoors, fresh air, physical exercise, adventure close to home, economical travel. And, like Brunswick, there are many main streets across America where a couple of new stores and a cafe where you can barely get a seat would be very welcome as signs of great optimism. 

    Photo of Beans in the Belfry by Jake Lynch/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

  • Missoula High Schoolers Blaze a Brand-New Trail in Montana

    By Laura Stark

    Missoula, Mont., is blessed not only with an envious network of gorgeous trails, but with an "energetic community that just loves to volunteer," says Morgan Valliant, the city's conservation lands manager. That winning combination was especially evident this past May when a group of seniors from Hellgate High School worked together to build a half-mile trail for their year-end community service project.

    "The students got a huge sense of accomplishment and the feeling that they're working in the community to make things better," says Valliant.

    On the day of the project, several school buses rolled into Hemayagan Park at about 10 in the morning and offloaded 175 eager students, as well as a handful of teachers and parents. To lead them on the project, the city partnered with Montana Conservation Corps; 23 of its staff members were on hand and quickly divided the students into manageable working crews.

    With this much adolescence en masse, a challenge was simply "containing the average teenage energy," says Mario Colucci, a program coordinator for the Montana Conservation Corps. Indeed, the only injury that occurred that day was when one of the girls tried to somersault down the hill--one of the hazards of working with youth.

    After safety instruction and an orientation on proper trail construction, the students were armed with an assortment of hand tools and lined up along the trail corridor. They started digging a dirt pathway through open grassland along the hillside and, by 1:30 that afternoon, the work was done. During the course of several hours, an entire trail had evolved.

    Although short, the new trail offers expansive views of Rattlesnake Valley and the Bitterroot Mountains. It's the first in a planned series of trails in the Farviews Pattee Canyon neighborhood. These trails will link to the South Hills network, which leads to the Bitterroot Branch rail-trail and subsequently the Milwaukee Trail, an important commuting route across town.

    "The project was actually a hair too small," says Valliant. "There was some down time at the end, but it gave the students a chance to run up and down the trail and see what they built."

    "We enjoy our work and it's fun to see large groups participate in this sort of thing and have fun," says Colucci. "It's a valuable experience for both sides."

    Photos courtesy of the Montana Conservation Corps.


  • RTC's Andrea Ferster Elected Next President of the D.C. Bar

    A huge round of applause for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) long-time General Counsel Andrea Ferster, who has been elected by her peers as the president-elect of the D.C. Bar!

    Ferster's legal prowess and dedication have had an enormous impact on America's rail-trail landscape, paving the way for the legislative support for making good use of our disused rail corridors.

    Under D.C. Bar procedures, the presidency is decided a year ahead of time by a president-elect vote. Last year's winner, Covington & Burling LLP partner Thomas Williamson, will become president on June 19 and serve for one year. Ferster will assume the president-elect title at that time as well, and a year from then she'll become president.

    With a remarkable career in public interest law stretching back almost three decades, Ferster has said that her highest priority as D.C. Bar president will be to expand and deepen pro bono engagement by all sectors of the Bar. As a long-time public interest lawyer, she aims to be a strong and sustained voice for the critical needs of, and access to justice for, D.C.'s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

    Way to go, Andrea! RTC is very proud of you!



  • Trail Project Assistance Available Through National Park Service

    Do you have an idea for a local conservation and outdoor recreation project, but need help to move that vision to reality? Is your budding rail-trail project in need of some expert planning assistance?

    Every year, the National Park Service helps hundreds of locally driven projects that create opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation, connect youth with the outdoors, and connect communities to parks. 

    The Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RCTA) program, through the National Park Service, doesn't provide monetary funding for projects, but instead offers what can be priceless expert staff time to help communities plan for success.

    That technical assistance could be in the form of helping with:

    • building partner relationships;
    • developing conceptual, strategic and workable project plans;
    • facilitating public participation;
    • identifying potential sources of funding;
    • "hands-on" conservation and other technical skills.

    Assistance is provided for one year and may be renewed for a second year, if warranted.

    Applications are now being accepted for the RCTA program. Deadline is August 1.

    Visit www.nps.gov/rtca for complete information and application.


  • Ready to Roll on the Greenway Sojourn

    After work yesterday I pulled the sleeping bag and tent out of the storage closet, picked up a few spare inner tubes, and spread the well-worn Maryland and Pennsylvania maps across the kitchen table  - it's time to get ready for the annual Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) Greenway Sojourn!

    Leaving Georgetown this Sunday, June 17, about 250 Sojourn riders will traverse two of the region's most famous rail-trails - the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park (C&O Canal towpath), and the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), covering 335 miles between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pa. The GAP has been a work in progress since the first miles opened 25 years ago, with new sections being completed and improved every year. Both trails offer unparalleled access to the spectacular peaks, river and valleys of the Allegheny Mountain corridor. It should be a wonderful trip.

    In addition to accompanying the riders, I'll be stopping in the communities along the way to talk with local business owners. RTC is always interested in exploring the economic impact of trail networks to the hotels, bike stores, cafes and grocery stores close by, and our plan is to produce a short film containing interviews with business owners and managers, testimony from trail users, as well as the wonderful sights and sounds along the trail itself.

    Got a good story about your holiday along the GAP and C&O? How about a recommendation of your favorite place to stay, eat or stock up along the way? Let me know - jake@railstotrails.org.


  • Earn-A-Bike About More Than Just Wheels in East Baltimore

    "I love what they did, letting us ride around the park."

    "I never picked up a plant before, out of the ground. That was surprising, seeing all those plants coming out of the ground like that."

    "Reduce, reuse, recycle. Do not trash the world - keep the world clean."

    Listening to the kids of East Baltimore in this video, it is clear they really switched on to the joys of riding a bike and looking after their local environment during Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Earn-A-Bike Program there earlier this spring.

    Thanks to the financial support of The Coca-Cola Foundation, RTC and our local partners in Baltimore were able to not only give these young students a new bike, but also give them a unique education in the life of their neighborhood park, and just what an urban farm is all about.

    We had a ball. And it seems like the students enjoyed themselves too. To join in the fun, check out this short video on the Baltimore program.


  • Pennsylvania's Grand Rail-Trail a Wonderful Legacy for Linda McKenna Boxx

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. Over the past few months we have been recapping the achievements of each champion. Today we pay tribute to Linda McKenna Boxx, a woman whose name will be forever connected to one of America's great rail-trail networks.

    Linda McKenna Boxx has been the driving force behind the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) since its inception in 1995. Her ability to inspire and unite the efforts of a disparate group of cities, counties, volunteer groups and federal, state and local agencies, is widely credited for the tremendous success of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which since the time of her involvement has become one of America's most popular rail-trail destinations.

    McKenna Boxx pulled several trail groups together so a number of disconnected segments of the trail could be completed to make the link from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., and then connect to the C&O Canal towpath, to Washington, D.C. She has served as board president and volunteer executive director of the ATA, in the process raising more than $30 million for construction. In addition, she has helped with marketing the trail, and with design and project management of several of the missing links.

    All this is more remarkable given that McKenna Boxx takes on this full time role as an unpaid volunteer. To ensure that more than 99 percent of the ATA's funding goes to building and maintaining trails, McKenna Boxx draws no salary, and the group does not maintain an office.

    Born in Latrobe, Pa., McKenna Boxx graduated from Bucknell University before beginning a career in state government in Harrisburg, her home state's capital, and then Arkansas. She moved back to Latrobe in 1982 to work at the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, a nonprofit which funds recreation, conservation and community improvement projects in western Pennsylvania. She currently serves as chairperson of that organization, balancing this full-time role with her consuming position at ATA.

    According to an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on being honored by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council with a Lifetime Achievement Award, it was McKenna Boxx's strong interest in environmental causes, especially the health of local waterways, which led her to form the ATA. But despite her remarkable achievements and her obvious importance to the Pennsylvania trails community, McKenna Boxx deflects the accolades.

    "I'm only one person, and there have been so many who have worked on this project," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And there are the real heroes, the people who cut the grass along the trail, take care of it, who keep giving us this great product day after day."

    McKenna Boxx selected the Great Allegheny Passage to receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Grant awarded in her name. The pass-through grant will be used to help build the final mile of this 141-mile network, the first nine-miles of which opened 25 years ago.

    Photo McKenna Boxx with former Mayor of Pittsburgh and fellow Rail-Trail Champion, Tom Murphy, by RTC
    Photo of Great Allegheny Passage courtesy of Ronald Mervine/TrailLink.com


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