TrailOff Promotes More Equitable Trail Usage Through Storytelling

September 16, 2020By: Lizzie Hessek
PEC Blog

Lizzie Hessek, Program Manager

PEC works across Pennsylvania to develop trail networks that connect communities to nature. It’s our mission that all Pennsylvanians have access to environmental and recreational resources. We are aware, however, that just building trails is not enough to make everyone in the State feel comfortable using them. We know that concerns for personal safety and feelings of a lack of acceptance or accessible information can keep diverse communities – especially communities of color and low-income folks – from using our trails. For PEC, this knowledge is a challenge. How can our organization create more equitable spaces that serve all Pennsylvanians? One solution among several we are pursuing is developing creative trail programming in partnership with the communities we seek to serve better.

TrailOff is one of these new programs. PEC partnered with Swim Pony, a performance art company, and Toasterlab, a technology firm, to develop this soon-to-launch free app that offers GPS-activated audio storytelling for ten Circuit Trails in and around Philadelphia. TrailOff aims at getting new and diverse users out onto the region’s trails and changing the stories we associate with them. Each story is fiction written from the perspective of a local author who demonstrates both rigorous artistic practice and connections to communities traditionally underserved by environmental programming.

There is no correct way to explore a trail, and TrailOff hopes to meet potential users wherever they are.

Over roughly two miles on ten different Circuit Trails, users can walk in the shoes of characters who see the landscape in new ways. Author ari’s story “Where the Light Won’t Go” reveals a set of Aztec deities sitting just behind the surface of human existence – and just off the edge of the Chester Valley Trail. Over in Southwest Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River serves as the barrier between the inhabited world and the mysterious hinterlands in Li Sumpter’s Afrofuturist ‘Chronicles of Asylum’ on Bartram’s Mile. Each of the stories explores a different perspective of the trail that is as much about the natural world as it is the personal experience of the TrailOff contributors.

“One of the aims of the project is to say, what if the stories are centered with perspectives that are usually marginalized in environmental programming,” said Adrienne Mackey of Swim Pony in a WHYY article. “All of the writers are involved with communities you wouldn’t normally think are nature people. We’re trying to change that.”

The TrailOff stories are only available by downloading the app and heading to one of the ten Circuit Trails. Once on the trail, the stories will unfurl in sync with users’ movements. The technology allows users to stop and reflect, to speed ahead, or to leave and return to the story later. TrailOff invites the user to discover the trail and its stories at whatever pace feels right for the individual. There is no correct way to explore a trail, and TrailOff hopes to meet potential users wherever they are.

Download TrailOff here: www.trailoff.com

 


If you want a taste of the TrailOff experience before heading to one of the ten TrailOff sites, you can attend one of Fringe Arts’ launch events happening over the course of the festival:

Friday, September 11 at 7pm

TrailOff collaborators Adrienne Mackey of Swim Pony, Lizzie Hessek of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and sound designer Michael Kiley discuss the creation process for this immersive storytelling project centering experiences that connect with communities traditionally underserved by environmental programming. Moderated by FringeArts Artistic Producer Zach Blackwood.

Saturday, September 12 at 7pm

Jacob Camacho and Trinity Norwood discuss the creation of their story for the Kensington & Tacony Trail that imagines conversations with the Indigenous Lenni-Lenape people of the past, present, and future. This launch event will also include a performance by Ty Dancing Wolf Ellis whose music is present throughout this story. Moderated by FringeArts Artistic Producer Katy Dammers.

Sunday, September 13 at 7pm

donia salem harhoor reads her poetry that considers the SWANA (South West Asia North Africa) diaspora, care-giving, and loss; all themes that are throughout her writing for the Perkiomen Trail. Kinan Abou-afach, whose music is heard throughout the story, will also perform live. Moderated by Swim Pony Founder and Artistic Director Adrienne Mackey.

Friday, September 18 

afaq joins Justin Dennis from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to talk about the development process for her story situated on the Cooper River Trail and the history of the site and surrounding area. Moderated by Swim Pony Founder and Artistic Director Adrienne Mackey.

Saturday, September 19 

Li Sumpter is joined by cast members Jaylene Clark Owens and Ursula Rucker in conversation about the making of Sumpter’s story Chronicles of Asylum for the Schuylkill River: Bartram’s Mile. Moderated by Len Webb, of The Micheaux Mission, this discussion will center Black stories, myths of apocalypse and Afrofuturism.

Friday, September 25

Erin T. McMillon joins sound designer Mike Kiley and voice actor Danielle Leneé to talk about the creation process and audio design for her urban horror story set along the Delaware Canal Towpath. Moderated by FringeArts Artistic Producer Katy Dammers.

Sunday, September 27

A memorial video will be released to commemorate the late author Denise Valentine’s story crafted for the Tacony Creek Trail.

Friday, October 2

Eppchez! speaks with Bob Skiba, Curator of the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center about queer history in Philadelphia, taking up some of the themes of Eppchez!’s story situated on the Delaware River Trail South. Moderated by FringeArts Artistic Producer Zach Blackwood.

Saturday, October 3 

ari walks the Chester Valley Trail and via video narrates the process of crafting their immersive story that draws from their own queer Latinx experience and childhood spent near the trailsite.

Sunday, October 4 

Jacob Winterstein speaks about the history of the Heinz Wildlife Refuge, the site of his story, and redlining in the surrounding Eastwick neighborhood. Moderated by Swim Pony Founder and Artistic Director Adrienne Mackey.

 

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