to appear in Pathways, Winter/Spring 2010

The folks at the Partnership for the National Trails System decided I should introduce myself in their newsletter, so I obliged with the piece that follows.

– Laura

I first fell in love with trails in high school, when I was running on them most mornings all summer and several afternoons a week during the school year. I was on the cross country team, you see, and training on trails honed our hill-climbing fitness and made us surefooted on rough terrain.

My teammates and I ran in Eagle Creek Park, a natural haven of nearly 4,000 acres in my native Indianapolis. It’s a big park – I got lost pretty regularly at first (that made for some long runs). Now, nine years later, I know every trail in that park – the rooty staircase on the Reservoir Run, the jack-in-the-pulpits surrounding a bench on the Volksmarch trail in the springtime, the maples whose trunks and leaves become pillars, arches, and stained glass on my favorite side trail. Whenever I run those trails, I feel like I’m seeing an old friend.

So why would I go all the way to Madison, Wisconsin, and leave Eagle Creek behind? To blaze some new trails, I suppose. I graduated last spring from a small school in northern Indiana called Goshen College, with an English major and a developing (and relatively mismatched) interest in sustainability. So I decided to commit to a year of service to try and link the language with the land.

The program through which I’m volunteering for the Partnership is called Mennonite Voluntary Service, and it’s a program of the Mennonite church, the small Protestant denomination I grew up in. MVS offers its volunteers a chance to work in a professional position of their choosing, in any of 22 locations all around the United States, unpaid but with basic living expenses provided. Madison appealed to me, having earned a reputation as a green city, and I soon came upon the Partnership for the National Trails System, headquartered in Madison, in my search for environment-related placement options.

I was intrigued: here was an organization that existed to improve and unite, not just one park or trail, but an entire (and extensive!) system of national trails. I’d hit paydirt – figuratively speaking, of course. Gary and Julia agreed to take me on as a part-time volunteer, and I started work at 222 South Hamilton in October. Since then, I’ve assisted with various mailings, a congressional directory, survey analyses, action alerts, and occasional copy editing. I’ve even made it out to Wisconsin’s own National Scenic Trail – as of December, I’ve been working half-time with the Ice Age Trail Alliance, a perfect pairing that lets me see how the Partnership interacts with one of its trail partners.

From one trail lover to another – thank you for all the work you do to preserve, protect, and maintain the beautiful places that stir us and keep us surefooted.

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