I’d venture that all of us who feel passionately about the environment and clamor for its protection and restoration can point to outdoor experiences in our youth that engaged us, excited us, seduced us into a deeper appreciation of the natural environment — “ah ha” moments that hooked us for good!
PEC believes that providing Pennsylvanians with access to the outdoors keeps us connected to natural resources and cultivates appreciation, if not reverence, for the natural environment. It makes us feel good! It gives us breath! It makes us smile. It provides space! Places to hike, bike, kayak, fish, hunt, and swim, to name just a few activities.
The William Penn Foundation’s (WPF) grants for trail work are part of their “Constituency Building” initiative embedded in their Watershed Protection Program. There’s almost a perfect match between their intended outcome and PEC’s longstanding view that, without connection to natural resources, Pennsylvanians won’t be the champions and stewards we need.
We need safe places for healthful recreation, and our communities need safe places just to connect with one another.
In the heavily populated Philadelphia area, multi-purpose trails that enable all sorts of users access is especially important. Multi-purpose trails can accommodate baby strollers, wheelchairs, and other assistive devices for mobility, while also welcoming runners, cyclists (including electric assist bikes), and pedestrians of all kinds — whether they’re out for a long-distance hike or just a casual stroll.
The staff at the WPF take this all very seriously, and during the past year worked hand-in-hand with PEC’s partners in the Circuit Trails Coalition to craft aligned proposals from twelve independent non-profit organizations that want to fulfill their missions on the region’s trails. Totalling $5.9 Million, these grants will contribute mightily to building a constituency for water quality and environmental restoration by bringing diverse users closer to nature. It’s no surprise that many trails in our region follow existing streams or rivers, or that these trails connect towns and city neighborhoods to parks and even more outdoor recreation opportunities.
PEC’s funding will support continued expansion of the actual trail miles built over the next two years and will provide PEC funds to regrant to smaller, more diverse groups that share the vision but may lack the resources. These “mini-grants” are one of the exciting new initiatives under the new grant.
PEC will also double down on our efforts to make Circuit Trails more welcoming and enticing to all users. Through recent surveys of Black and Latino communities in the region, we learned that residents haven’t always seen themselves represented amongst current trail users. Though most said they were interested in spending time outdoors, many respondents simply didn’t know about trails in their neighborhoods, and those who did often experienced barriers to feeling safe and welcome.
The WPF’s grantmaking in support of a coordinated approach to building the Circuit Trails network and inviting diverse users is an exciting and timely investment in trails. We need safe places for healthful recreation, and our communities need safe places just to connect with one another. We need joyful and memorable outdoor experiences that will seduce the future champions and advocates of our natural resources to ensure a better environment for all.