5th World Trails Conference 2015
keynote speech | ‘to go far we walk together’
Bob Searns – American Trails Chairman Emeritus, The Owner of the Greenway Team, Inc. (USA)
Thursday, January 15, 2015, Seogwipo ICC
This morning I want to talk about a few things, but I want to start off with epic moments in our lives that really got us into what we all do and I was sitting here at the table with my colleagues from Canada and it turns out I grew up very near Toronto in Canada and just north of there is a place called Algonquin Provincial Park which is a huge land there where people go and there are no motorized vehicles allowed. You travel by canoe under your own power or you hike and when I was a teenager I was a guide for canoe trips up there in Canada. I would pick people up and we would got for a day out into the wilderness. When you’re out there you can hear the loons. For those of you who are not familiar they are the wonderful water bird that have this amazing call. I remember one night I was sitting at the camp site and the fire was going and across the lake. My Canadian friends can relate to this. You can hear those loons calling and that was an epiphanic moment for me and by epiphany it means one of those moments lightening strikes you and you realize what your calling in life is. I realized that at that moment I was a 17 year old kid and really my calling was to connect with nature and connect people with nature.
So I am going to talk a little bit along those lines about epic moments and how we fit into this ancient chain of events that has brought us to where we are and what we’re all doing and world wide.
Then we’ll start by talking about 7 epic moments that I see, and has a North American perspective, but hopefully I have a global aspect to this, but there has been a process of evolution in the trails movement and I want to start with some of the commentary by writer, a Scottish writer, Robert Mcfarlane, about the ancients ways and the old ways. He has a great book out called The Old Ways and what really struck me about what he said and this is in Europe is that we in those times centuries ago there was an ethic. It was okay to have rights of way. It was okay to travel across landscapes and particular in Scandinavia there was always a right of passage that exist to this day. That all land is considered everybody’s land. It means ‘every man’s right’ (Allemansrätten in Swedish). The right of any citizen to walk anywhere on uncultivated land providing he does no harm. To ramble, to sleep, to light a camp fire, to swim in the steam, to pick nuts and berries. I think in many ways we all still embody that tradition in what we’re doing. And maybe this is probably because Scandinavia didn’t have a history of feudalism where there was a land owning class that dominated the landscape and kept people out. But in more recent times there has been a return to this inspired by that notion across Europe and places like Jeju Olle. Hopefully in the US we’ll begin to see more of a notion of having these places where anybody can walk and visit. Pathways are all about freedom. The ability to move and travel on the landscape. Having those central corridors that is a priceless thing that we have. That’s one of the things that happened.
Another is the notion of the sacred walk. And I learned actually talking to my colleagues from Japan about the Kumano Kodo that’s an ancient pilgrimage in Japan that goes back to the 9th Century so that has been around for a while. And of course just about all of us in the room are familiar with the Camino De Santiago across Spain and how it has inspired people worldwide to emulate those ideas and those those kind of things happen. That goes back over a thousand years too. And that is a religious pilgrimage. People to the tomb of the apostle Saint James because the relics there were considered very important in Christianity and people traveled from France and Central Europe and they crossed Northern Spain. I have been there too. I have still got to do to the whole thing. It is on my bucket list.
But that was all about spiritual reward of getting to that destination, but it wasn’t so much in reality the destination as it was the journey. And it eventually had a guidebook. They had one back there in 1139 that would guide pilgrims along that corridor. This led to commercial routes and it also led to economic prosperity along those corridors. That seems to be happening again too. I think we want to be convincing our leaders and our nations of the economic prosperity that comes with trails and coming back again the tradition of pilgrimage has not ceased. It is expanding. Actually back about 30 years ago it became a cultural itinerary and now again thousands and thousands of people are finding this route. It has just grown explosively. 2,400 people in 1985. More than a quarter of a million did it more recently. So really the other thing that trails are about are pilgrimage. And there is a revival we’re seeing. There’s a movie coming out in the US. How many of heard of Wild or read the book? The movie is coming out about a woman who had issues with drugs and marriage problems. She just went out and just started this journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. That pilgrimage brought her an epiphany and a form of salvation.
So that kind of implies the notion of pilgrim rules. A Czech writer, Vaclav Cilek, talked about the rule of resonance that we think about and those are places. Maybe our secret spots where we stop and individually and personally relate to that spot. It is not a great mass pilgrimage of all the people going together to one destination. But it is each of us going out and finding our spot in that place. That’s more important to us than anybody else. To me it was that campfire on that Lake in Algonquin Park with the Loons calling. The is also the rule of correspondence, a place within a landscape that corresponds to a place within the heart.
And then one of the things that happened in another epic moment for us. This was in North America. During the Great Depression of the 1930s Franklin Roosevelt who was president of the time created a youth corp. During that time people were unemployed. They were out on the streets. There was fear of violence. They were really afraid that our democracy would be overthrown because of disgruntled people, particularly young people. His plan was to get these kids out in the woods working on the landscape. They’d never thought of that before in North American and so created the Civilian Conservation Corps and these kids would leave their towns and they would go and live in the woods, in tents and cabins. They would get $25 or $30 and they would have to send $25 home to their families and people were desperate then so that meant a lot. They planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America and more than 800 parks were built nationwide by the CCC. They constructed 47,000KM of trails on public lands and that legacy is the trail infrastructure on the forest lands in the US today. It was one of those kind of visions and other nations have had similar visions or will have similar visions. Especially in tough economic times as a way not only to get some kids off the street, but by living in the woods it instills a sense of stewardship and connection and that resonance with those landscapes. That is important.
Another epic moment from my perspective was the rails to trails movement. With abandoned rail lines being converted into trails. And the first one was in 1965, 50 years ago. A rail trail was converted into a recreational trail and it was a boom to the economy in Wisconsin. Some laws were passed in the US to help facilitate that where if a rail line was abandoned it wouldn’t just revert back to the original owners of the land. It stayed. It had value as a right of way for fiber optic, utilities, or future rail user transit. This rule and this technique can apply to any nation and those opportunities are there. The RTT was the advocacy organization. We need to get them participating in our group. They have been promoting rail trails. This has occured in other places. This is one in Japan. There is one in France. So the RT movement is picking up momentum. Continue reading “[5th World Trails Conference 2015] Keynote Speech | ‘To Go Far, We Walk Together’ | Bob Searns”