Making trails for everybody: Launch of grant program fosters Circuit Trail community

For Celebrate Trails Day, on April 22, one of the country’s most extensive trail networks buzzed with festivities.

Along a section of the Circuit Trails network in Trenton, New Jersey, music and the creation of colorful murals marked the Artworks Trail Jam.

The event was just one result of PEC’s newly launched Circuit Trails Coalition Community Grant Program, which awarded a total of $150,000 to organizations that enhance engagement and access to the Circuit Trails network, particularly in historically disinvested communities and among marginalized groups. Ten organizations received grants, with funding from the William Penn Foundation.  

For the Trail Jam, artists and trail-goers convened for an afternoon of music, live mural painting, bike rides and other outdoor activities. In collaboration with Trenton Cycling Revolution’s Community Outreach Garage, the event brought creative fun to an annual spring cleanup.

PEC’s Patrick Starr attended and watched as spray paint and chalk added color to walls and sidewalks. Artworks Trenton works with the mission to make the trails “more scenic, colorful, and inviting for residents and visitors.”

The Community Grant Program supports other projects like tree plantings and bike riding lessons. The grant program arose from the 2020 Equity of Access to Trails study, which highlighted a need to reduce barriers to trail access, particularly for underserved communities.

There is such a hunger for these kind of projects.

The funding is one way PEC and our Circuit partners are working to connect people with the outdoors and  enrich their lives. Another grant recipient, Hike+Heal Wellness LLC,  organizes”healing hikes and grounding experiences” for women in order to “increase overall physical, mental and spiritual wellness.” Ninth Street Youth & Community Center is using its grant funding to plant trees, install picnic tables, and host mentoring and life skills workshops for youth in Chester, PA. 

A full list of this year’s grant recipients can be found here. 

“There is such a hunger for these kind of projects,” Starr said in a recent interview on KYW NewsradioThe grant program, he said, is a great opportunity for “anybody out there that wants to invest in community programming and creating more access to Circuit Trails and nature and mental health.”

The 2023 Circuit Trails Jam featured music, art, and biking along a section of the D&R Canal Trail, increasing awareness of the trail and making it more accessible to the community.

The 2023 Circuit Trails Jam featured music, art, and biking along a section of the D&R Canal Trail, increasing awareness of the trail and making it more accessible to the community.[/caption]

Starr was interviewed for KYW’s Bridging Philly program ahead of Celebrate Trails Day. Joining him were Sarah Clark Stuart, executive chair of the Circuit Trails Coalition (CTC) and executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and Iresha Picot, a licensed behavioral therapist and founder of the cycling club Black Girl Joy Bike Rides.

Picot described how, when she first came to Philadelphia 15 years ago, many of the people she met didn’t have a bike or didn’t know how to ride one. That realization inspired her to create a cycling group.

I want to bring Black women that I’m in community with together,” she said. “It’s all about centering joy and prioritizing yourself.”

To join Picot on future rides, reach out to her on Instagram @IreshaTheHoodTherapist.

The Community Grants program builds on ongoing efforts to make the Circuit Trails network more welcoming, inclusive, and reflective of the region’s diversity. Through its work on the CTC steering committee, PEC recently led the development of a report, “Moving the Circuit Forward to Reach 500 Miles by 2025,” whichincludes recommendations for securing the funds necessary to reach that goal and identifies critical gaps to address in order to expand the network — emphasizing that gaps in equitable access to the outdoors are no less important than physical gaps in trail infrastructure. Community-led projects that promote justice, equity, and inclusion are critical to closing those gaps.

On the podcast, Starr described the Circuit Trails as a haven amid a metropolitan area of almost 6 million people. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the hundreds of miles of paved paths offered places of refuge.

“It’s so important to realize they are a place you can go just to get away from things,” Starr said. “It’s a way to connect with loved ones and family and friends.”

Trails are also a way to connect people with the natural world, even in a highly urbanized setting. Many trails in the region run along waterways or offer vistas of trees and parks. PEC believes that getting more people outside and on these trails will cultivate a sense of stewardship for these natural areas.

“My proudest moments as somebody involved with this is when I see a family with a little girl or a little boy with training wheels out on the Circuit Trails, and I just think, I am so happy to see this sort of thing,” Starr said.