Hello and happy holidays, my friend in Illinois trails!
I’m writing this on a brilliant and sharply chilly weekday morning, my ears still red and burning from the run at my local nature preserve. I ran out the door forgetting my hat, but felt I had to get back to write this letter, so I kept going. I’m rubbing my ears between sentences and wondering if I feel exhilarated or dumb. A little of both.
You and I are building a community here at Trails for Illinois of people who love, use, and want more trails and trail experiences. Cyclists, runners, hikers, bird watchers and skaters, cross-country skiers and walkers. A friend of mine is fond of a phrase, “all things in all ways,” and I think that’s a great way to describe our trail community. It’s also an attitude that can get you out of a rut: my passion is cycling, but I have fallen in love with running my little neighborhood nature trail. I highly recommend that you find a new way to visit your favorite trail this winter, or a trail that you’ve overlooked or dismissed. Why limit the good in life?
At our core at Trails for Illinois, we know this to be true: Illinoisans enjoy the highest quality of life when they can regularly get outside, moving under their own power. This is the best and highest use of the corridors and pathways we will advocate for, improve, and promote. Good health and well-being is the foundation for all of life’s endeavors, and allows us to keep our footing during job crisis, family crisis, financial crisis. When you can say, “At least I have my health,” you’re proclaiming your ability to adapt and bounce back.
Personally, I believe that in our lifetimes, towns and agencies will be as obligated to connect walking and biking facilities to their residents as they are now to connect sewer and clean water. The rising stream of research by our top institutions is emphatically demonstrating that our physiology craves the outdoors, that our mental abilities and emotional balance suffer in fundamental, measurable ways when we stay in and stay still too much. I believe this stream is going to become a flood. Trails for Illinois has a cornerstone role in the public health initiative of our time!
2012 is our year, fellow trail lover. It’s the year we begin to connect Illinoisans to the benefits of integrating outdoor trails and multi-use paths into their lives, their businesses, and their communities. Here’s how:
- Gitter done! We’ll help communities and agencies around the state find the grants, the design know-how and the political will to complete well-designed trails with great connections.
- Team up! We’ll make friends to fight for good trail policy. Illinois is struggling to fund its trail programs, and in Washington, 2012 brings the final battle for trail funding in the next federal transportation bill. We’re already finding allies in trail user groups, cycling advocates, and parks & recreation to bring home trail funding, crucial investments in the well-being of Illinoisans.
- Make it count—literally! With volunteers and electronic counters, we’ll measure use and collect user data along the state’s major trail systems. We’ll be able to put to paper the economic impact and the health impact trails have on Illinois’ communities—a sorely needed tool at a time when every public dollar spent must prove its worth!
- Shout about it! Illinois trail builders and trail user groups need a mechanism to broadcast, celebrate, and share stories. Our website, trailsforillinois.org, will re-launch in January with trail database integration, and our social networks already hum with trail and trail-related feeds. Our newsletter, Trail News, becomes a bi-monthly in January with both print and electronic editions.
- Saddle up! In July 2012, we’ll host our first fundraising event, a 2-day, overnight, car-free bicycle ride on Illinois trails called GITy up! (GIT = Grand Illinois Trail). Illinois already boasts a trail network that in many places can go toe-to-toe with Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan…. We’ll give doubters, beginners and families a small, compelling taste of the trail adventures our state offers, and raise Illinois‘ profile as a trail adventurer’s destination.
Trails for Illinois is still such a little organization to have so big an agenda for the next year. But I admit it energizes me—suddenly we are looking beyond surviving as an organization. We want to THRIVE. Our time in this particular state is a desperate time that asks of EVERY person and organization involved in good works to strike out boldly toward their vision.
I hope you are energized by the challenge, too. Trails for Illinois wants to make every home, and doorstep, and driveway a trailhead. Step boldly forward with us. Make a substantial year-end contribution today toward our work in 2012 (on-line or print this PDF).
And then waste not another minute of this beautiful day and get outside.
Steve Buchtel, Executive Director