At the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), we believe that having meaningful experiences in nature is key to developing a love for natural resources and fostering a stewardship ethic. While opportunities for outdoor recreation are not equal across the Commonwealth, PEC is committed to democratizing recreation and active transportation for all by supporting the development of trails that are within reach of all Pennsylvanians. We are not alone in this pursuit. We share this goal with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as articulated in the State’s award-wining State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
Through our work, we are acutely aware that many communities are left out of traditional engagement for planning and design of trails. The voices of people of color, low-income communities, differently-abled people, youth, and seniors are often missing from trail conversations in both urban and rural areas across Pennsylvania.
Our awareness incited action. With the help of a working group of Circuit Trail members, we sought to gather and share effective tools for inclusive trail planning. This report is the result of that effort. While it is designed to educate trail building and programming professionals in the Circuit Trails Coalition, the tools are applicable beyond our network. We first looked at case studies of inclusive trail planning efforts in areas similar to the Circuit Trails region, interviewed people involved in the projects, and, with equity in mind, took a critical look at how these projects unfolded. Lessons learned were informed by both the successes and challenges of respected practitioners in Atlanta, Washington DC, Camden, and Philadelphia.
Our major take-aways:
- There are tangible and intangible barriers that keep some individuals and whole communities from participating in planning processes;
- Language barriers, demands of jobs and family, inflexible schedules, and limited transportation options can keep people from participating in community meetings and events;
- The struggle to be heard, the belief that one’s experience will not be taken seriously, and the lack of familiar faces at public meetings are realities that keep some communities from feeling included in planning processes.
While the experience of Pennsylvania’s natural beauty is an inheritance of all residents and access to these spaces is critical, the reality is a work in progress. The tools in this report aim to help trail planners and environmental educators overcome these barriers to participation in thoughtful ways. The goal is always to build and maintain places where all Pennsylvanians feel genuinely welcome to embrace that inheritance.