At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary
celebration last year, 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. Among that revered
group was Charles Montagne, RTC's first general counsel and a founding board
member whose legal expertise and commitment paved the way for the rail-trail
Few have been as vital to the enduring success of the
rail-trail movement nationwide as Charles "Chuck" Montange.
Born in Kingsley, Iowa, Montange's professional life as an
attorney brought him to Washington, D.C., in 1976. Almost a decade later, David
Burwell, then at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), called Montange for
assistance in preparing comments for NWF in connection with the Interstate
Commerce Commission's initial rulemaking to implement the railbanking statute.
(Burwell would soon become, along with friend and colleague Peter Harnik, the
co-founder of RTC).
It was a timely phone call and would prove to be one of the
key moments in RTC history. Just the week before, Montange had pedaled the
Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Iowa. He had witnessed firsthand the potential of
rail-trails and was eager to help.
The comments Montange put together helped in the formation
of RTC and were instrumental to the success of countless rail-trail efforts
nationwide. His understanding of railbanking and abandonment legislation, and
ability to win key legal battles as a pro bono attorney representing RTC and other
rail-trail advocates, made possible the formation of America's best known and
loved rail-trails, including D.C.'s Capital Crescent Trail, the Katy Trail
State Park, the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska and South Dakota's George Mickelson
Foremost among his many landmark legal efforts was the
successful defense in federal court of a 1986 constitutional challenge of the
legal validity of the Katy Trail.
Montange now lives in Seattle, Wash., where he continues to
work on behalf of rail-trails. Happily, he gets to enjoy his local rail-trail
whenever he accompanies his wife on her daily bike commute to Children's
Hospital in Seattle.
Montange selected the Klickitat Trail Conservancy in
Washington to receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions pass-through
grant awarded in his honor. After local trail opponents barricaded the 31-mile
Klickitat Trail in 2002, supporters mobilized to protect the route and formed
the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, which today provides much of the maintenance
of the trail. Montagne believes that diligent and prolonged effort on behalf of
this beautiful trail-and in the face of threats and adversity-deserves
recognition and reward.
Photo of Chuck Montange on the Klickitat Trail courtesy Chuck Montange
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
Washington, DC 20037