PEC Vice President Patrick Starr is taking the lead as Chair of the Circuit Trails Steering Committee to guide trail development and programming in the Philadelphia area. He replaces Sarah Clark Stuart, who has led the Committee since its inception about 10 years ago.
The transition comes as momentum continues to build for trail development in Greater Philadelphia. With that in mind, Starr wants to turn the Steering Committee’s attention to building stronger relationships with communities and expanding partnerships that form the foundation of the Circuit Trails Coalition.
“Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. You have to work on welcome and programming and engagement to get people to see the trail as a resource that’s meant for them,” Starr said.
This vision builds on initiatives like the Circuit Trails Coalition Community Grant Program, which PEC launched in April 2023 with funding from the William Penn Foundation. In its first year, the program provided $150,000 to support community-led projects and programs, such as tree plantings, bike riding lessons, group hikes, and art installations, along multi-use trails in the Circuit Trails network.
“It’s been a way to very intentionally cultivate relationships and connections with community-based groups focused on increased use of the Circuit Trails,” Starr said of the grant program.
In December, PEC helped to convene some of the community grantees as a way of cultivating relationships to support these organizations “beyond the check.” It proved to be a great way to hear from and work closer with this critical layer in the trails, parks, and open space ecosystem.
Looking to the future, Starr wants to focus on engaging underserved and disadvantaged communities in the Circuit Trails network. Part of that effort will involve fostering greater diversity among the Steering Committee members to better reflect the communities they serve and the people who use the trails.
“We have to find ways to meaningfully engage with organizations and groups that can bring those voices to our table,” Starr said.
To that end, PEC received funding from the William Penn Foundation to assess the coalition’s membership and participation. Emilia Crotty, PEC’s Director of Trails and Equitable Access, is leading that effort.
These goals build on the tremendous work that Sarah Clark Stuart and Patrick Starr have been working toward since they became inaugural members of the Steering Committee ten years ago.
Stuart spent the last 15 years as Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP) before announcing her intention to leave last year, in order to make way for new leadership. Chris Gale replaced her as Executive Director of BCGP, becoming the first person of color to lead the organization.
Stuart has been a powerful advocate for trail building and bike safety in the Philadelphia area. Her many contributions to the Circuit Trails include helping Philadelphia and Camden win a $23 million federal grant in 2010, ultimately spurring construction of 125 miles of Circuit Trails throughout nine counties, as well as being a part of a state-level campaign to secure automated speed enforcement on Roosevelt Boulevard — a major, life-saving safety improvement. She continues this line of work in her new role as Trails Manager for the Philadelphia Streets Department.
The ultimate goal is to establish 800 miles of connected trails. A particularly exciting project on the horizon is the completion of the Spring Garden Street Greenway Connector, which will connect the Schuylkill River Trail with the Delaware River Trail and connect with the larger East Coast Greenway, extending from Maine to Florida.
As trails continue to connect communities, more people, particularly county partners, are realizing the importance of the Circuit Trails network.
“The happiest thing they do is ribbon cuttings on new trails. A big crowd comes; everyone is happy,” Starr said. “Everybody loves trails.”
To learn more about what the Circuit Trails Coalition is doing to build the network, and how you can get involved, visit circuittrails.org.