Hosted by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the quarterly Northeast Pennsylvania Trail Forum was held Feb. 12 at the Bear Creek Reserve, just southwest of Wilkes-Barre.
Every four months the Trail Forum meets at a new location in upstate Pennsylvania to discuss issues, share insights, and learn from the various attendees. The day consists of three parts: hiking, a networking lunch, and project updates. This format allows for the relatively large group (around 40 attendees) a variety of networking opportunities throughout the day. The Trail Forum is made possible by PEC’s Northeast office, along with partners such as the North Pocono Trails Association, the Anthracite Scenic Trail Association, and the Lackawanna Heritage Valley.
The Trail Forum differs from other coalitions I’ve been a part of in large part because of its unique structure. Most of us think of meetings as action-oriented affairs where we each leave with concrete tasks to do next – and generally this is a good thing. But the Trail Forum is about bringing people together to learn from others experiences. While there may be a key speaker, there is no agenda. A roundtable discussion of project updates and questions for the audience serves that purpose.
The Trail Forum is a case study in how to bring leaders (both professional and volunteers) together in a way that meets their needs and improves their work. Thus, the simplicity of bringing people together who do similar work and share similar problems has proven to be an effective way to align the multitude of groups who are geographically distant but share complementary work.
PEC has worked regionally in southeast and Western Pennsylvania to bring together trail networks and create a highway-like system of trails known as the Industrial Heartlands Trail Coalition to the west and The Circuit Trails to the east.
Along with Frank Maguire, PEC Program Director for Trails & Recreation, I will be working on the beginning of a similar process in Northeast Pennsylvania. Our first step is to define the major gaps between the trails in the northeast and work with the existing trail builders to prioritize and map those gaps. Eventually, with close collaboration with the attendees at Friday’s meeting, we may create a trail system similar to those underway in western and Southeast Pennsylvania.
PEC has always considered itself a “big tent organization,” and nowhere was that more visible than at the North East Trails Forum meeting. The meetings continue to show the importance of being a conduit to bring people and organizations together and empower them to learn and share collectively.