(IAP 2015) Danya Rumore, G
Danya Rumore (G, Urban Studies and Planning) Danya is working with the Idaho Conservation League to support collaborative trail, pathway, and open space connectivity efforts in North Idaho. Building on the work she did as a DUSP-PSC intern in summer 2013, she completed a comprehensive assessment that will help guide trail, pathway, and open space connectivity efforts in the region. She also advised ICL in developing a strategy for launching and supporting a more coordinated approach to trail, pathway, and open space planning. She continues to work with ICL to support trail and connectivity efforts in the area. The goal of this project is to enhance recreational and sustainable transportation opportunities in North Idaho through better coordinating existing efforts, resources, and future planning throughout the region.
(Spring 2015) Blog 2, February 25. 2014: Laying the Groundwork for Coordination and Collaboration
One of the things I find most rewarding about my line of work is seeing groups of people realize the potential they can create by working together. Sometimes this happens in situations of conflict, where people move from actively working against each other to instead figuring out how they can get things done and meet their interests through working together. Sometimes this happens in situations where, as I put it, the dots simply need to be connected – where people had not actively pursued or even thought about structured partnerships and collaboration, and then are brought together to realize their collaborative potential. Regardless of the context, I find helping people create value and realize new opportunities through collaboration and coordination enormously rewarding.
In light of this, it is no surprise that I am very excited in the aftermath of the trail user and advocacy group workshop my partners at the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) and I hosted earlier this week.
The workshop, which we refer to as the trail groups powwow, brought together representatives of the main trail user and advocacy groups in the Sandpoint region to discuss interest in, opportunities for, concerns about, and potential models for greater coordination and collaboration among groups. As my ICL partners and I anticipated based on our background conversations with folks, all participants saw enormous value in greater coordination among groups. They expressed a general need for additional capacity and resources, a concern about overlapping and competing efforts, and a desire to work together to address these issues. Participants saw many opportunities and potential benefits from greater collaboration. These ranged from being able to share resources, facilities, and communications and outreach capacity to being able to work together on major grant applications to fund large-scale trail, pathway, and connectivity efforts. Perhaps most exciting of all, workshop participants felt that, through working more closely together, they can help generate and realize a big vision for trails and connectivity throughout the Sandpoint Region
Although everyone in attendance was strongly supportive of and interested in greater coordination among groups, they also recognized that there are a number of challenges and considerations that have to be taken into account in making this happen. Each of these groups represents and addresses the priorities of certain trail users. The Pend Oreille Pedalers, for example, are mainly a mountain biking and cycling group. The Sandpoint Nordic Club, on the other hand, brings people together around cross country skiing. While there are a multitude of people who are part of (and even on the boards of) many of these groups and organizations, there are also many people who are predominantly interested in one type of trail use, or are most interested in trails in certain areas. In light of this, workshop participants noted that if a coordination approach moves forward, it is critical that groups can maintain their identities and continue to appeal to their members’ interests. Additionally, the people involved in these groups are already stretched thin as they volunteer their time and resources to keep these groups stay alive and thriving. Hence, it is only reasonable that another widely shared concern was making sure that any coordination effort that goes forward enhances the ability of groups to do their work without being “just one more thing to do” or “just one more meeting to attend.” These are the kinds of considerations that need to be taken into account in designing and implementing a coordination strategy for these groups.
Once it was clear that people were unanimously committed to greater coordination and collaboration among groups and people had a chance to air their concerns, we then engaged participants in exploring what kinds of coordination models might work for the Sandpoint Region trail user and advocacy groups. During this part of the conversation, I encouraged participants to brainstorm – to come up with as many “good ideas” as they could, without feeling like they had to commit to any approach. In the end, the group was able to identify a number of promising coordination approaches for the groups to consider going forward.
As I explained to participants at the start of the powwow, this workshop was intended to be simply the beginning of a conversation – to lay the initial groundwork on which a coordination effort could build. The goal was not to reach agreement on what should be done to coordinate the groups; rather, it was to make sure people were on the same page about opportunities for collaboration, things that should be considered when developing a coordination approach, and the kinds of approaches their groups might use to advance coordination. To keep the conversation moving forward after this initial powwow, we ended the workshop by laying out next steps. The group decided to designate a coordination planning committee with representatives from each of the trail user and advocacy groups. This group will clarify what the mission and vision for the coordination effort will be, look at additional models the group might think about, and then generate a number of concrete proposals for how the groups might better collaborate going forward.
The outcome of this powwow remains to be seen and may take months or even years to fully manifest. Yet it is clear that simply bringing people together and helping them explore the potential for and value of greater collaboration has already had an effect. Workshop participants lingered after the session to talk about how their groups could work together and to envision possibilities for a broader coordination effort. The energy in the room as people talked about options and how they could work together to address each other’s needs was palpable. And participants were chomping at the bit to nail down a structure for enhancing collaboration.
Having observed the dialogue and the shifts that happened in the room during the session, I can say with certainty that something powerful occurred during that short period of time. The groundwork for something great has been laid; now it is just a matter of what people choose to collectively build on it. And all of this was the result of simply bringing people together a place where they could talk openly, be heard, explore ideas together, and learn from each other.
(Spring 2015) Blog 1, February 18. 2014: The Next Step – Enhancing Coordination, Collaboration, and Capacity Among Trail User and Advocacy Groups
A little less than a year ago in March 2014, I facilitated the Sandpoint Region Trails and Connectivity Stakeholders Workshop in conjunction with my Idaho Conservation League (ICL) partners here in North Idaho – see below blog post. Knowing how long it takes things to come to fruition in the public sector, it is truly amazing to me – and entirely energizing – to see how much progress on trails and connectivity the Sandpoint Region had made in the 11 months since.
The Sandpoint Region Trail Mix, an inter-jurisdictional coordination committee, is off and running, and a number of new, very key partners (such as Schweitzer Mountain Resort and the Forest Service) are now participating. The Trust for Public Land has become actively involved in the Sandpoint Region’s trails, pathway, and open space planning; they are currently in the process helping the region develop a “Greenprint” – a long-term vision for conservation and plan for protecting open spaces. The first part of the Pend d’ Oreille Bay Trail project – a major waterfront pathway effort that will preserve precious lakeside access and connect Sandpoint to the communities of Ponderay and Kootenai – has been completed, and the next phase is already underway. And Bonner County is moving forward with creating a new Recreation Department that would advance trails and other recreational access throughout the county.
Given where we started back in June 2013 when I first working with ICL on this project, it is rather amazing to see how far trail and connectivity efforts have come.
Although trail and connectivity-related things are generally chugging along here in the Sandpoint Region, my colleagues at ICL have identified a concern that could hinder progress. The numerous trail user and advocacy groups in the area (which include the Friends of the Pend d’ Oreille Bay Trail, the Pend Oreille Pedalers, the Mickinnick Trail Group, the Nordic Ski Club, and North Idaho Bikeways, among others) continue to be very active. However, they also continue to not really be coordinating with each other. This lack of coordination and structured collaboration may hinder the capacity of these groups to make progress on major trail projects, to influence the on-goings of the Trail Mix Committee, and to secure major grant funding for their efforts.
Hence, I am once again in Sandpoint (and am happy to be here instead of being on the East Coast getting bombarded by snow!) to host another facilitated stakeholder workshop. This time, we are convening only representatives from the trail and advocacy groups – not the jurisdictions – to get them thinking about how their groups can better coordinate among themselves, work together to have a say in the Trail Mix Committee, and collaborate in pursuing major grant funding to do big and impactful trail, connectivity, and open space projects in the region.
Based on conversations with people from all of the trail user and advocacy groups, we know people are very interested in creating additional value and enhancing their capacity through better collaboration. What this will look like and whether we will get something off the ground remains to be seen.
I look forward to seeing what advocacy groups can, through facilitated dialogue, come up with during the workshop we’ll be hosting this coming Monday, February 23. For now: I’m thrilled with how much of an impact my little bit of support for trails and connectivity coordination in the region has had over the last 18 months, and I’m optimistic that a little bit more time and energy put in will have considerable and lasting benefits.
(Spring 2014) Blog 1, April 03, 2014: Connecting people, connecting communities
Ten months ago, I began my work with the Idaho Conservation League on trails and connectivity in the Sandpoint Region of Idaho. At that time, I would never have believed that we could make so much progress in such a short a time. When we got started last summer, we had a sense that a lot of people and groups were working on trails and connectivity in the region, but that they were not coordinating and working with each other. Our intent in undertaking the project was to better understand whether people were working together and to think about how to facilitate better collaboration. We never imagined that this project could—within a year—help initiate an inter-jurisdictional trail coordination group. Nor did we envision that there would be such widespread support for enhancing trails and connectivity. Further, we would never have guessed that the project would end up bringing together key stakeholders to identify approaches for enhancing trails and connectivity in the region and for facilitating collaboration among involved stakeholders and agencies. But here we are, and these momentous achievements are just the start of the positive progress we have made in supporting greater connectivity in North Idaho!
Last week, during MIT Spring Break, I had the great pleasure of facilitating a workshop for Sandpoint Region trail and connectivity stakeholders. My ICL partners and I collaboratively organized the event, keeping the workshop small and targeted toward key stakeholders, mainly the people I interviewed as part of the stakeholder assessment I conducted last summer. The intent of the workshop was to get key people into the same room and talking about collaborating on trails and connectivity, something that was identified through the stakeholder assessment as a key need. We also wanted to share the findings of the “Comprehensive Assessment: Trail, Pathway, and Open Space Connectivity in the Greater Sandpoint Region” I produced based upon the findings of my research and assessment of Sandpoint Region trails and connectivity efforts, and to share information about the recently created inter-jurisdictional trail committee, the Trail Mix.
In light of the enthusiastic response I received for my work with stakeholders last summer, I was optimistic that we would get a good turn out for the workshop. However, asking busy people to attend a two-hour workshop, even when it is about something they care about and lunch is provided, can still be a large ask. A strong testament to how passionate people in the Sandpoint Region are about moving forward with greater collaboration around trails and connectivity, workshop attendees included a key representative from all of the involved jurisdictions (Bonner County, City of Sandpoint, City of Ponderay, and City of Kootenai), as well as all major trail groups and organizations (such as the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, the Pend Oreille Pedalers, and the Mickinnick Trail group). I was particularly thrilled that two of the three Bonner County Commissioners attended, not to mention two Sandpoint City Councilmembers. While getting interested parties together is important, getting key parties with resources together is even more important.
The workshop was a huge success. Not only did we get a great turn out, but people stayed the whole time, and most stayed well after to continue talking about ideas and plans. Everyone was highly engaged, very curious to hear about the findings of my Comprehensive Assessment and to discuss what these findings mean for moving forward, as well as to discuss concrete ways of advancing collaboration around trails and connectivity throughout the region. Most importantly, the workshop allowed us to develop a plan for keeping people engaged and working together through expanding the efforts of the nascent Trail Mix.
A couple weeks before holding the workshop, I finalized and sent out the official version of the Comprehensive Assessment. Somewhat to my surprise, in a wonderful kind of way, the document quickly got picked up for use throughout the Sandpoint Region, including being featured as a Bonner County Planning and Zoning meeting and getting posted on the Bonner County website. Additionally, the Comprehensive Assessment is already being used to support grant applications to fund trails and connectivity work around Sandpoint. The exceptionally positive community-wide response to the report has been enormously gratifying. My partners at ICL and I originally envisioned this document being mostly helpful for informing ICL’s approach to enhancing trails and connectivity in the region. Instead, it has become a source of momentum for Sandpoint Region-wide trails and connectivity work!
I hope and believe this project has been of great value to the Sandpoint region. I know that it has been enormously momentous for me personally. Through seeing this project—or, more accurately, the first phase of this project—through from start to finish, I have been able to practice my stakeholder engagement and consensus building skills in a real-world context that deeply matters to me. I have made invaluable contacts and connections, and have further refined my professional aspirations. I have even been more or less offered a job to facilitate the trail and connectivity coordination effort, should it get off the ground! This project has also allowed me to witness how the skills, knowledge, and expertise I have developed through my work and studies at MIT can have meaningful impact in the world. For these reasons, among others, I am truly thankful for the MIT Public Service Center’s support of this project.
With the Trail Mix getting going; the Trust for Public Land getting involved advancing trails, open space, and connectivity work in the region; and widespread stakeholder buy-in for collaboration, great things are underway in and around Sandpoint. Where exactly the trail will lead, only time can tell. But I am excited to be part of the adventure!
(IAP 2013-14) Blog 3, February 02, 2014: Wrapping up IAP, looking forward to the exciting trails ahead
I’ve got some exciting news to wrap up my blog for IAP 2014:
First off, the final draft white paper is officially undergoing its final review process. Titled “Comprehensive Assessment: Trail, Bike Path, and Open Space Connectivity in the Greater Sandpoint Region,” the white paper is a whopping 65 pages, filled with all of the rich information, ideas, and recommendations I gathered from interviewees last summer during my stakeholder assessment. It also includes the findings of my research on what other cities and regions have done to support trail, pathway, and open space connectivity and coordinate efforts. To ensure that the factual information included in the assessment is correct, I have shared the final draft with all of the people I interviewed this summer. They will have a couple weeks to review the document and send feedback on any factual corrections they think need to be made before it is finalized. Once I’m done incorporating any final changes, the paper will be finalized and made available to decision-makers and the public in the Sandpoint Region—as well as to anyone else who wants to read it. It’s been a long time in coming, but we’re finally getting close to the white paper finish line!
Even more exciting, my Idaho Conservation League (ICL) partners and I have decided that the last week of March—MIT Spring Break—is an ideal time for us to convene key trail and pathway stakeholders in the Sandpoint Region to review the findings of the white paper and discuss next steps for moving forward trail, bike path, and open space connectivity. As I indicated in my last blog post, there are a lot of promising irons in the fire—the Trail Mix group is getting going, the Trust for Public Land might partner with us, and people are really eager to get moving on a connectivity coordination effort. We think that gathering people this spring to talk about the findings of my research, to consider the recommendations that came out of the Comprehensive Assessment, and to discuss how the Sandpoint Region might move forward with a trails and pathways coordination group will build valuable momentum for all of these efforts and propel us forward in supporting more collaborative connectivity planning. Even though the spring term at MIT hasn’t yet started, I’m already excited to head back to Idaho to follow up on all of the work we’ve done!
So, the Trail, Bike Path, and Open Space Connectivity in the Greater Sandpoint Region Project continues—and my partners at ICL and I are very optimistic that our work over the last year is going to have very significant and long-lasting beneficial effects on the City of Sandpoint and surrounding areas.
My work has been just a drop in the bucket of all of the efforts that have helped us get to this exciting point. However, I like to believe that the Comprehensive Assessment I did last summer and the consulting and advising I provided ICL this winter have meaningfully helped push things along. And as IAP comes to an end, I look forward to finally finishing the white paper and to the adventures ahead.
My sincere thanks and gratitude to both the MIT Public Service Center for supporting this ongoing project and my partners at ICL for being such amazing teammates and for bringing my along for the adventure.
(IAP 2013-14) Blog 2, January 15, 2014: All sorts of excitement in North Idaho!
Wow, where does the time go? The last two weeks here in Idaho have flown by, a flurry of momentous meetings, thought-provoking conversations, professional and recreational adventures, and wild weather.
During the first week of January, Susan Drumheller—my partner at Idaho Conservation League—and I spent a lot of time reviewing and revising the draft white paper I put together this summer, particularly focusing on hammering out the executive summary and recommendations (the important stuff, since that’s what most people will actually read!) The white paper is about 65 pages, consisting of three sections:
- A “Situation Assessment” that lays out the Sandpoint Region’s trail, pathway, open space, and connectivity projects; key stakeholder groups involved in connectivity efforts; and the various projects and efforts that are underway or planned.
- A “Stakeholder Assessment” that captures the key themes and ideas from my interviews with over 20 key stakeholder representatives this summer. The Stakeholder Assessment discusses stakeholders’ big vision for the Sandpoint Region; their thoughts about trail, pathway, open space, and connectivity priorities; their ideas about the challenges and opportunities for better coordinating and connecting trail, pathway, and open space efforts in the region; and their perspectives about whether and how the region should go about better coordinating and collaborating around connectivity-related work.
- An “Assessment of Coordination Models” that reports on the findings of my research regarding what other towns, cities, and regions are doing to coordinate and connect their trails, pathways, and open spaces; the pros and cons of these models; and the relevance and appropriateness of these models for the Sandpoint Region.
In addition to those three main sections, the white paper also includes my recommendations and suggested next steps for the region. These recommendations and next steps provide guidance for how stakeholders here might go about advancing and coordinating connectivity efforts, as well as for how they might go about facilitating collaboration among involved entities. The white paper also has a five page executive summary, which boils down the key findings from the entire white paper. Knowing how these things tend to go, Susan and I suspect most people in the region will only ever read the executive summary, so we’ve put a bit of effort into making sure it captures the key highlights of the assessments and says what it needs to say.
Early next week, the final draft of the white paper will get sent out to all of the people I interviewed and spoke with this summer for their review and accuracy check. Once all interviewees have had a chance to look it over and suggest corrections, we’ll finalize the white paper, and then will make sure it gets disseminated to relevant parties and is made readily available for anyone who is interested in checking it out.
In addition to finishing up the white paper, all sorts of exciting things have been underway here in Sandpoint. Stimulated in part by my work this summer—but more by the initiative of Susan Drumheller and other involved parties—a group of key stakeholder representatives has formed to help finish up the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail project and to begin coordinating on broader trail, pathway, and open space connectivity efforts in the region. The group, which just recently decided its name will be the “Trail Mix” (great name, right?) includes representatives from the involved jurisdictions—Bonner County, City of Sandpoint, City of Ponderay, and City of Kootenai. The Trail Mix is currently in the process of adopting a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that will formalize the group’s commitment to work together to protect and enhance access to the natural and man-made assets in the region, as well as to work on “connecting the lake, mountains, and communities” in the region.
The Trail Mix is an informal committee without any formal decision-making power, but the intent is for this inter-jurisdictional group to provide recommendations for the involved entities in the region and to help push forward regional trail and open space efforts. Perhaps, over time, this informal group will develop into something more formal, but for now, Susan and I are thrilled to see this initiative underway. Last Thursday, I attended one of the first meetings of the Trail Mix, and it is fabulous to see the involved parties so committed to working together and excited about getting this initiative off and running. It was also exciting and rewarding to see the findings of my white paper (the Trail Mix representatives have read the executive summary!) influencing how the group is organizing itself and approaching its work.
The Trail Mix isn’t the only exciting thing going on. Last week, during a major winter storm, a representative from the Trust for Public Land (TPL) drove up from Jackson, Wyoming, to meet with those of us working on trails, pathways, open spaces, and connectivity projects in the region, with the ultimate goal of exploring ways TPL can help the Sandpoint Region advance its efforts to protects and enhance public lands and public assets. Susan showed our friends from TPL around Sandpoint and gave him a tour of our trails and community assets… at least she did so as well as she could amid the storm: their tour included trying to walk on the ice-covered Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail amid blowing snow, and almost getting t-boned by a car that slid on the icy roads. In addition to their hazardous tour of the area and it’s trails, paths, open spaces, and other natural assets, the representative from TPL also met with me and a number of other key stakeholders working on connectivity, trail, and open space efforts in the region. He was particularly interested in hearing about the white paper and related work I did this summer, and we spent a lot of time talking about the findings from my assessments, recommendations for the area, and what is needed to advance trail, pathway, open space, and connectivity efforts throughout the Sandpoint Region.
By the time Susan and I had dinner with him on Wednesday night before his departure, our friend from TPL was thoroughly impressed with what we have going on; excited about the potential of the open lands, trails, and other public assets in the Sandpoint area; and vocal about wanting to work with us to advance our efforts in the region. TPL’s involvement in the Sandpoint area could include helping us with land acquisition, campaigns, public opinion polls, and strategic visioning and planning, among other things. While nothing is certain and their partnering with us will depend on securing funding to support their initiatives, those of us in Sandpoint are feeling very optimistic that this partnership will manifest. Pretty exciting!
Our friend from TPL not only left us with optimism about a future partnership, but he also left Susan with a new nickname to commemorate their adventures driving around stormy, icy Sandpoint: T-Bone Drumheller. It’s already stuck!
While Susan and I had originally envisioned hosting an informal gathering of all of the stakeholders I interviewed this summer to discuss the findings of the white paper and talk about next steps, we have decided to hold off. There are too many irons in the fire—we need to let the Trail Mix get going and see whether TPL will be able to work with us. Once these things settle out, we think the timing will be right to informally convene everyone I spoke with this summer along other key stakeholders in the area to talk about the findings of my white paper, to share information about the Trail Mix (and, things going as we hope, TPL’s potential involvement in the region), and to talk about next steps for moving forward trail, pathway, open space, and connectivity efforts in the region. Right now, we’re thinking that late March (perhaps my spring break?) or early summer will probably be the right time, since Susan would really like me here to facilitate this process and share the findings of my assessments. Susan and I are both eager to get people together and to share more information about what is going on and the findings of my research and assessments, but as they say: don’t put the cart before the horse. Getting people together will be a great opportunity to help build momentum for connectivity and coordination efforts; we’re going to wait until the time is right so that we can get the most out of this opportunity to help push forward connectivity efforts in the region.
Sadly, I’ll be heading back to Cambridge next Tuesday. While it feels like my time in Sandpoint has flown by, the last three weeks have been exceedingly rich, filled with all of the above things as well as amazing, inspiring conversations with people around town and on the chair lift up at Schweitzer Mountain; adventures, whether they be skiing adventures or slipping all over the icy road adventures; and a lot of personal and professional learning. I look forward to continuing to work with my partners at Idaho Conservation League t help push forward Sandpoint’s trail, pathway, and open space connectivity work; to continuing to learn from Susan Drumheller and my other amazing colleagues in the region; and to the next journey to North Idaho!
(IAP 2013-14) Blog 1, December 27, 2013: Getting to work in wintery North Idaho
Winter in North Idaho is a far cry from summer. The surrounding mountains are blanketed in white, the lake is icy cold with a frosty sheen, and the days are short. From about the beginning of December until sometimes as late as mid-April, the trails and bike paths are buried under a couple inches of snow—people are out on their skis and snowshoes instead of on their bikes and skateboards.
During the wintery months, it can be hard to imagine kids on their bikes riding all around Sandpoint, visitors traveling here from all over the region to hike the trails and explore town on foot, and people commuting from the outlying areas into Sandpoint via any non-motorized mechanism they can come up with. But as soon as the snow melts, the bike and pedestrian activity will begin again, and in the meantime, we have some work to do.
Building on the work I did as a PSC intern this past summer, I have returned to Sandpoint, Idaho, to support and advise my partners at the Idaho Conservation League in launching a more collaborative, coordinated trail, bike path, and open space connectivity effort. Through the stakeholder assessment and research I conducted over the summer, I identified both a strong need for and a strong interest in better coordinating and connecting trails and bike paths throughout the region. As the people I spoke with this summer consistently said, there is huge potential for making the Sandpoint region a “walkable” and “bikeable” tourist destination, as well as a top notch hiking and mountain biking area, which would provide a broader and more sustainable economic base. They also consistently said there are a lot of great trails and paths throughout the region but “we need to connect the dots.” Based upon the outcome of my work this summer, my partners at the Idaho Conservation League and I are now working to help connect the dots through bringing key stakeholders together and creating an approach for more collaborative trail and bike path planning and implementation.
Over the month of January, we will be meeting with key stakeholders in the Sandpoint region—including elected officials, local agency personnel, and non-profit representatives—to discuss how to move forward with a more coordinated trail and bike path planning approach. We will also be conducting additional research on strategies the Sandpoint region might adopt in moving forward with the effort, such as through creating a stakeholder advisory committee of through pursuing a recreation district. Additionally, my partners and I will work with trusts and foundations to explore possibilities for enhancing and supporting the initiative. The goal is to use the next month to lay out a plan and set the foundations for a more coordinated trail, bike path, and open space connectivity effort, with the intent of working with local stakeholders to roll this initiative out over the next year or so.
While we’ve got lot of work to do, I’m also hoping to find plenty of time to get out on the trails myself—on my skis and snowshoes, at least.
******Danya was awarded a PSC Fellowship for IAP 2014, so that she can continue her work from the Summer!****
Danya spent the summer working on collaborative outdoor recreation, conservation, and trail planning in Sandpoint, Idaho, with the Idaho Conservation League (ICL). Drawing on her training in consensus building, environmental planning, and stakeholder engagement, she helped her partners at ICL identify barriers and opportunities for increasing trail and open space connectivity, and develop strategies for coordinating outdoor recreation and trail projects in North Idaho. Her work is likely to lead to the creation of a trail coordination group and more collaborative recreation and trail planning in the Sandpoint region. Danya also spent a fair amount of time out biking, running, and hiking the trails and paths of North Idaho, including leading a hike as part of the ICL annual hiking series.
Final Blog, September 20: An amazing summer project…And this is just the beginning of the trail
Classes are back underway at MIT, the summer is rolling to a close, and now that I’ve had an opportunity to talk with a couple additional key people working on trails and connectivity in North Idaho, I feel I am finally able to reflect on my amazing summer internship experience.
This summer, I had the opportunity to interview over 20 people from the Sandpoint and broader North Idaho region. Much to my surprise, these informal interviews, all of which except for the last two were conducted in person, lasted an average of 90 minutes; going into the project, I thought people would only be able to spare a half hour or so to talk with me. However, during my conversations with people ranging from City officials to County Commissioners to local trail, bike, and pedestrian advocates, it quickly became clear that trails, connectivity, and open space preservation are things that a lot of people in the region are excited to talk about.
My meetings and interviews this summer took me all over the North Idaho region, bringing me to places I’d never been before and allowing me to meet a variety of fabulous, enthusiastic, and visionary people. One of the most fun highlights of my project was spending over 2 hours having a “meeting” while mountain biking the trails around Schweitzer Mountain. As the interviewee I was riding with said before we met: “the best way to get a sense of the area and concerns we’re talking about is to get out there yourself!”
Equally as exciting and even more rewarding, I—as one might expect in a small town like Sandpoint—often bumped into people I had interviewed while checking out the local farmers market or out on the trails and bikepaths, only to have them tell their friends or family “this is Danya, the MIT graduate student I was telling you about. We’re so excited about what she’s doing!”
Perhaps the most amazing part of the project was that everyone I talked to expressed a very strong desire to move forward with some sort of coordinated trail and connectivity planning process. And while each person and group had their own lessons-learned and ideas to contribute, some very clear themes emerged from these interviews and conversations:
- Everyone I talked to sees great value and a strong need for better coordinating trails, open space, and connectivity efforts in the region. There are some differing perspectives on what the ideal scale for this would be—for example, some people think focusing right around Sandpoint would be most effective, at least to start, while others think the effort should encompass all of Bonner County and even stretch into Boundary County up north. Yet people strongly agreed: better coordination is possible and would be a huge benefit to the region, regardless of what scale the effort initially focuses on.
- People generally think the coordination effort could take a variety of forms, ranging from a trail steering group to a trail advisory committee, or maybe something else. However, they all agreed that to be effective, the effort needs to have clear objectives and a firm mandate, and it has to have buy-in from all involved jurisdictions and organizations. As one interviewee put it, it has to be clear that this group is not “meeting just to meet.”
- Almost everyone said they feel that, to be effective and really get things done, this effort has to have someone whose job (probably a full time job) it is to lead the effort and help the involved jurisdictions and groups work together. People said they think it is critical that this person really know the key players in the region, what is going on and who is doing what, what resources exists, and how to mobilize people and resources to get things done. Most interviewees felt strongly that leaving this task to volunteers or asking one of the jurisdictions to lead the effort was unlikely to be effective, due to the fact that everyone is stretched in their capacity, there are always politics involved, and a certain set of skills are needed to make the leader of this effort effective.
- People identified all sorts of challenges that are likely to arise in trying to better coordinate connectivity efforts and enhance trails and open space in the region. They also had many great ideas about how to address these challenges. For example:
- One of the key challenges that came up in just about every conversation is the issue of funding. The region doesn’t have a large tax base; it is generally conservative so “people don’t like paying extra taxes;” and federal and state funding is very limited. Whatever sort of effort goes forward will need to fund a way to get broad buy-in and mobilize financial resources to get things done. Fortunately, interviewees had many ideas about how funding mechanisms to support this effort, ranging from creating a Recreation District to innovative ways of implementing impact and user fees.
- Private property rights concerns are a big issue in the area, and this can make it challenging to connect trails and create access to assets such as the lakes and rivers. Many interviewees thought that whoever leads the trail connectivity efforts in the region has to be good at selling the idea of connectivity and able to building consensus in order to get buy-in from potentially disinterested parties.
- Maintenance is a perennial issue for trails and open spaces, and whatever effort goes forward needs to figure out a sustainable approach for maintaining what exists and whatever new trails and open spaces are created. Fortunately, a number of interviewees had great ideas about how to ensure maintenance across all jurisdictions.
- Related to the above points, everyone I talked with saw a strong need for creating widespread buy-in for whatever coordinated trails and connectivity effort goes forward. This includes buy-in from the involved jurisdictions and organizations, but also from the public in the region. Without this buy-in, efforts to create new trails and raise funds for new paths and maintenance are not likely to succeed. Many interviewees agreed that a clear vision for the effort and well planned marketing and public education efforts would be key to the effort’s success.
While these challenges are very real and will need to be addressed in moving some sort of a trail and connectivity coordination effort forward, the good news is that towns, cities, and regions throughout the U.S. and elsewhere have created models that the Sandpoint area can learn from. While none of these models can be used as a blue print for North Idaho, there are important lessons that can be learned from what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere. Some key lessons that emerged from my research on what other areas are doing include:
- There are a variety of models that appear to be working in different places, ranging from non-profits that oversee the trail systems and work with local jurisdictions (e.g., Centennial Trail Foundation and Methow Valley Sport Trails Association) to trail steering groups (e.g., Delaware Valley Regional Trails Program). While my research in Sandpoint suggests that a model more along the trails steering group approach is likely to be most realistic and effective, this is a decision that has to be made by the involved parties and will depend on the willingness to commit resources and time.
- The funding mechanisms and approaches used to support these trail connectivity efforts is equally diverse, ranging from Recreation Districts (e.g., Blaine County Recreation District) to fundraising and donations (Centennial Trail Foundation) to trail use fees and other impact fees (Kingdom Trails).
- In all examples, someone is (or a couple people are) tasked with the job of overseeing the effort and leading the initiative. This can be someone such as an Executive Director, a lead government agency, or someone who is hired to lead and coordinate a trail steering group or advisory committee.
Much remains to be seen, but I am excited to say that this project is very likely to provide a platform for more collaborative trail and connectivity planning in North Idaho. In light of the overwhelming enthusiasm expressed by the groups and individuals I spoke with this summer and the great value they see in coordinating their efforts, my partners at Idaho Conservation League and I are now in the process of planning a gathering of key stakeholders to explore next steps for getting a trail and connectivity coordination group off the ground. This meeting, which we hope to hold in January 2014, will bring together the people I talked with and a variety of other key stakeholders from the region to discuss what we learned through my research, models for coordinating efforts, the resources and challenges exist, and how people want to move forward given these options, opportunities, and concerns.
My hope is that this project will catalyze a truly collaborative trail and open space connectivity effort in the Sandpoint region. And while only time will tell, I am very optimistic that it will. If it does, I sure hope to have the opportunity to stay involved!
Thank you to the Public Service Center and the DUSP-PSC internship program for funding this project; to Idaho Conservation League for supporting my work; and to all of the wonderful people who shared their time, knowledge, and enthusiasm with me over the summer!
Blog 2, July 30: Out on the trails
“Mama bear’s up there” a trail runner calls out as I climb up the trail toward him on my mountain bike.
For a moment, I think he’s making a joke about his wife running behind him on the trail. Evidence of how much living in the city has influenced my way of thinking, it takes me a couple moments to realize he’s talking about a REAL mama bear.
“She’s got her cub with her, about a mile up the trail. Watch for her,” he hollers with the matter of fact tone of someone who is used to watching for and every-so-often encountering bears and other wild critters on the trail.
He doesn’t seem too concerned. Having grown up in terrain where it’s not entirely uncommon to find black bear dung on one’s front porch, I’m not too concerned either. But it’s a reminder to be diligent. As I pass a couple more trail runners, I ask them where she’s at and whether she seems agitated or used to people. One woman says in a loving, familiar voice, “Ah, she’s alright!” It’s obvious she’s seen this bear on these trails before. Indeed, it sounds like this bear is a local, just another denizen using the Sherwood Forest trails right on the outskirts on Sandpoint that so many of us love.
I work my way along the winding, heavily forested multi-use trails, riding carefully to avoid any surprise encounters and singing loudly to alert any wildlife that I’m there (it might be silly, but one’s got to make noise somehow when riding alone!) As I ride, I reflect on how amazing it is to have this trail network within an easy bike ride of the town center; how wonderful it is that wildlife and respectful trail users can co-exist; and how thankful I am for the private-public partnership and conservation easement that made the Sherwood Forest trails—extending over 142 acres of private property—available for trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers like me, as well as equestrians, to use.
The Sherwood Forest trail system is just one of many such trail projects that have come to fruition in the greater Sandpoint region over the last decade or so. For example, there is the Mickinnick trail just a couple miles north, right on the edge of the city limits. Consisting largely of 160 acres of property donated by Sandpoint local Nicky Pleass in honor of her late husband, the trail—which was named for Nicky, her husband Mick, and the local kinnickinnick plant—climbs 3.5 steep miles up into the Selkirk Mountains to provide amazing views over Lake Pend Oreille, the Pend Oreille River, and the Cabinet Mountains. The trail was opened in 2005 and was made possible through a partnership among the Idaho Panhandle Resource Advisory Committee, the City of Sandpoint, Bonner County, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and The Friends of Mickinnick Trail.
Similarly, the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail (known by locals as the POBT), which winds along the lakefront right from the heart of Sandpoint, has only recently become legally accessible to the public, largely through the hard work of the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail volunteer group. The trail is a unique and valuable asset for the Sandpoint community: not only is it the only lakefront trail starting right in the center of the city, but it also links the communities of Sandpoint, Ponderay, and Kootenai. As Sandpoint and its surrounding communities grow, lakefront property is increasingly developed, and the need for non-motorized transportation options increases, the POBT and the public lake access and bikeway it provides will be a precious resource for the Sandpoint region. And if not planned for now, open spaces and trails like the POBT will be increasingly hard to create or preserve.
As these projects show, there is a lot of community passion and commitment to creating outdoor recreation trails, pathways, and bikeways in the Sandpoint and Bonner County region. There is also city and county support for increased trails and connectivity. For example, a Bonner County Trail Plan was compiled a couple years ago and the City of Sandpoint Department of Parks and Recreation put out a Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan in 2010. Yet, these efforts have thus far been largely ad hoc and haven’t really gained traction. The existing trail plans have largely sat on the shelf unfinished; the trails that exist aren’t really connected; and opportunities to develop bike lanes and pathways have been missed due to lack of a coherent vision.
The challenge, as my conversations with key stakeholders have made clear, is: 1) to figure out how to connect the bits and pieces of trails, bikeways, and parks in the Sandpoint region; 2) to find a way to get regional entities and advocacy groups concertedly working together to maintain what exists; and 3) to develop and institutionalize an approach for planning, funding, developing, and managing trails, bikeways, and open spaces going forward.
Fortunately, there are many models from other towns and regions in the US and elsewhere that Sandpoint can draw on. And groups and agencies in the North Idaho region have already got some great ideas about how to move forward. Over the next couple of weeks, my goal is to draw all of the local knowledge and lessons learned from elsewhere together into some ideas and recommendations the Idaho Conservation League can use to move forward with collaborative trail and connectivity planning.
In the meantime, I’ll keep exploring the region’s trails, bike paths, and open spaces. And I’ll keep an eye out for bears, elk, and other critters while I’m at it.
Blog 1, July 03: Connecting people, open spaces, and trails in North Idaho
When I tell people on the East Coast I’m from North Idaho, I get all sorts of amusing responses, such as: “Lots of potatoes, right?” or “I’ve never met anyone from Idaho before!”
Those who have actually been to Idaho or at least know someone from the state typically think of Boise, which I frequently have to explain is an eight or so hour drive—in Idaho traffic, meaning with hardly a car on the road—south from my hometown, Sandpoint.
As the proud Token Idahoan at many MIT and Harvard events, I am more than happy to explain that North Idaho is basically a southern extension of British Columbia, the Canadian province that is only about 60 miles north. Home to Lake Pend Oreille, the fifth deepest lake in the United States, and situated amid the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Bitterroot Mountains of the northern Rockies, Sandpoint is more like a small, remote Lake Tahoe than the dusty potato fields that people seem to imagine when they hear the word Idaho. For those of us who know and love the region, its no surprise Sandpoint has been named one of America’s “Most Beautiful Small Towns” by publications such as Rand McNally and USA Today. We just hope that the publicity doesn’t attract too many people to our small town of about 7,500 residents.
Historically, the economy in much of the North Idaho—i.e., the Idaho Panhandle—was based on timber and other resource extraction industries. Over the last two decades or so, Sandpoint and its surrounds have become increasingly dependent on tourism and recreation. People come to play on the lake and hike in the nearby mountains during the summer; in the winter, they come to ski at Schweitzer, our local ski resort.
While the area has a strong recreational and tourist pull, its trails and open spaces are not well connected, nor are they well protected. For example, the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, a trail that runs right along the lakeshore from the heart of Sandpoint, has only recently become fully accessible to the public. A multi-year effort, led by the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, is underway to buy the property the trail crosses from private owners so that the waterfront pathway, which connects Sandpoint to its neighboring communities Ponderay and Kootenai, can be protected and available for residents and visitors in perpetuity.
Like the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, many local environmental and conservation organizations and agencies have recognized of the need to better connect, improve, and preserve Sandpoint’s open spaces and trails and, as a result, have recently undertaken efforts to increase and protect these resources. Some groups are interested in increasing recreational opportunities and preserving Sandpoint’s natural assets; others are more focused on improving non-motorized connectivity among North Idaho communities and improving the region’s sustainability. While a lot of work is underway, these efforts have thus far been disjointed and sometimes at odds with each other. And this raises the question: how can we get these groups to work together toward the common goal of protecting Sandpoint’s open space and improving trail connectivity in the region?
That’s where I come in. This summer, I am working with the Idaho Conservation League’s Sandpoint office to help initiate a more collaborative, coordinated approach to enhancing and protecting open space, trails, and connectivity in the region. As a PhD student at MIT studying Environmental Policy and Planning, my research and work focus on supporting collaborative environmental planning and helping stakeholders better manage their natural resources. Although my dissertation research is aimed at helping coastal communities prepare for climate change impacts, my long-term goal is to support more sustainable natural resources management in the Rockies. Over the summer, I have the exciting task of using my skills and training in facilitation, stakeholder engagement, and consensus building to help groups in my home region work together to protect our natural assets, enhance outdoor recreation resources, and support more non-motorized travel.
That’s the big picture of my project. More details (and beautiful photos) to come!