Diversifying Trail Use for Diverse Communities

Lizzie Hessek, Program Manager

PEC’s mission is to protect and restore environment to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. We believe that trail development is an effective way to achieve that mission because trails lead people from their own backyards into the heart of the natural world. Developing physical and emotional connections to the environment creates environmental stewards who become part of the mission to protect Pennsylvania.

While PEC supports many types of recreation to create bonds between Pennsylvanians and their environment, trails offer a particularly valuable opportunity. There is a low barrier of entry to trail use – all you need is a pair of walking shoes to start enjoying it. Trails form corridors that link many different types of neighborhoods together regardless of income or centrality. There are as many ways to use trails as there are trail users — everyone can discover their own way to experience the trail.

There are as many ways to use trails as there are trail users…

Trails are an opportunity to create bonds between Pennsylvanians and their environment.

PEC’s programming reflects this eclectic attitude toward trail use. In addition to bike rides and walking tours, we have hosted dinners with secret locations on a trail, scavenger hunts through trail towns, and an upcoming digital theatre project throughout the Circuit Trails. Trails are places ripe for creativity.

Despite the diversity of ways trails can be used, we at PEC, as well as many of our partner organizations, are aware that trail users themselves are somewhat homogenous. As our mission is to serve all Pennsylvanians, PEC is working to build more inclusive trails in our region. We researched best practices and examples of equitable trail planning and programming to create the Inclusive Trail Planning Toolkit.

The Toolkit then led to a series of professionally facilitated trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for PEC staff and our partners in the Circuit Trails Coalition. In addition to sharing the results of the Toolkit with our colleagues, a major outcome of the workshops was the establishment of a DEI Taskforce within the Circuit Trails Coalition and the integration of equity goals into the Circuit Trails Strategic Plan.

Discussing PEC’s Inclusive Trail Planning Toolkit with author Julia Raskin on the PEC podcast.

There is a low barrier of entry to trail use – all you need is a pair of walking shoes.

PEC is proud to be a founding member of the Circuit Trails’ DEI Taskforce. The Taskforce is working to ensure that each member of the Circuit Trails Coalition has sufficient support to build and promote trails in their communities that are welcoming to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, gender, etc.

To do this, the task force is taking on projects such as:

  • Investigating what resources are missing that can help Coalition members create an inclusive trail network
  • Gathering data to establish a baseline for who is using the trails and attending events
  • Establishing a mechanism for member organizations to find local institutions for outreach and engagement
  • Creating channels for member organizations to obtain advice about trail projects from within the Coalition
  • Discerning the need for language translation of Circuit Trails materials and facilitating translation as necessary.
  • Creating communications for Coalition members that highlight opportunities for learning and application of JEDI methods in the workplace and parks/trails sector.

There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that our recreational infrastructure is serving all Pennsylvanians, and PEC is proud to be taking that work on every day.