Breaking Down the Silos – Building Trail Community In Unexpected Ways


Where would we be without trails? Trails have always been a way of life in America, and a vital part of the American experience. From the horse and wagon trails to the West and the foot trails created by the Civilian Conservation Corps, to the development of challenging off-road trails for the mountain bike – America is a trailblazer.

Today there are trails for everyone. There are trails that help us get in touch with our past, and connect us with how far we’ve come, like the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. There are trails that take us to beautiful places that no car could ever take us. There are trails that take us to and from work, not just on days like Bike To Work Day, but for many, every day of the year. There are trails that drive our economy, proven by studies showing positive economic impact of greenways and trails year after year. There are thousands of miles of trails dedicated to diverse uses such as hiking, horseback riding, motor sports, and winter pursuits. Even paddlers have water trails. No matter the use, trail users have common ground — shared stewardship and advancement of our amazing trails. Unfortunately, many of our best trails advocates have become insular. “Breaking Down the Silos” is a metaphor for the situation that many of the trails-related agencies and organizations, including American Trails, find themselves in. This analogy refers to the 1980’s, nuclear era, concept where groups of people wall themselves off from the rest of the world, and their entire world becomes focused on what is happening within their particular silo. This has happened to many of our organizations over the last 15-20 years. By breaking down these metaphorical silos, we can begin to work cooperatively toward our many common goals within the trails community.

Trails, in their many varied, myriad forms, are the single most critical element in providing the opportunity for people to re-create themselves. Trails allow many of the most common recreation activities to exist. And by association, they allow us all to maintain our identities. If, for any reason, we take away a person’s ability to use a trail, it can have dramatic effects on that person’s mental and physical well being. In my case, it was perceptually taken away through a new disabling condition. For others, it may be closing trails to a use that has historically been open to them. For yet others, it may be a lack of sufficient income allowing them to purchase the gear needed to enjoy their preferred recreational activities.

Join me for a discussion of how we can all work to break down the silos within the trails community, and what we can do to build support for trails in unexpected areas and amongst unexpected constituencies. This session will engage an open forum discussion about the current climate of the trails community, and will examine the ways we can have work together to bring a greater understanding of the value of trails in public and private health, local economies, and social equity.

About the Presenter:

31997933_mikeheadshotMike Passo is the Executive Director of American Trails. Mike has also served as the Executive Director of the Professional Trailbuilders Association and the owner and operator of a sea kayak outfitter called Elakah Expeditions. Mike has led groups of all backgrounds, ages and abilities on sea kayak expeditions in the San Juan Islands of Washington, Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and in Glacier Bay Alaska. Mike has conducted an extensive study of outdoor developed areas nationwide to determine the cost implications of construction according to proposed American’s with Disabilities Act standards, and a Congressional study on improving access to outdoor recreational activities on federal land. He has a B.S. in Recreation Resource Management from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, including three years coursework in Landscape Architecture and Civil Engineering. He has presented on Universal Design and Programming at several national conferences and served on the Board of Directors of American Trails since 2000. His love of the outdoors and his own paraplegia has given him a great interest in the creation of an accessible outdoor environment that does not ruin the characteristics and value of that environment.

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