A Call to Action — and Moment of Zen — From the American Trails National Symposium

| 11/21/2010 7:49:26 AM

DaytonDuncanYou may not know Dayton Duncan’s name, but you’re probably familiar with his work. Even if you don’t own a television, you surely heard the buzz last year about Ken Burn’s spectacular mini-series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Well, Duncan was the man behind the camera, scripting the narrative that earned the 12-part documentary two Emmy Awards for outstanding writing. Last week, Duncan served as an inspiring keynote speaker at the American Trails National Symposium.

I had the lucky job of representing the Alliance for Biking & Walking at the biennial event that brings together a diversity of folks who care about trails and greenways — federal agency staff, state government officials, city planners, volunteer advocates and dirt-turning engineering outfits. This year, there was plenty to celebrate. The conversations in the halls and the presentations in the workshops showcased the overwhelming and tangible evidence that trails enhance the health, economic vitality and environmental sustainability of the communities they serve.

But there was also an undertone of concern. Like I noted in my post about the loss of Congressman Jim Oberstar, the midterm election has put federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian in serious peril. “Make no mistake about it,” Marianne Fowler, a vice president at the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy said at the conference. “Trails are in the crosshairs… Staff members of the incoming majority have publicly said that one of the first things they want to eliminate in transportation funding is Transportation Enhancements and trail funding. That’s us, guys. Let’s get real here. We’ve got a fight on our hands and we need to get prepared for that fight.” (I wrote a whole blog about it here.)

So Duncan’s speech, on the last day of the conference, was inspiration to suit up and go to battle. And, while his address related most directly to trails and national parks, I couldn’t help but apply his insight to the broader bicycle and pedestrian movement.

Duncan spoke eloquently of John Muir’s spiritual conversion and passionate crusades to preserve our sacred vistas and valleys. Duncan suggested that, in our work to create environments that get more Americans off the couch and into the open air, we are following in Muir’s footsteps. By creating the infrastructure and shaping a culture that better serves the spirit and health of future generations, we are equally immortal.

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