17th National Trails Symposium Comes to Austin Oct. 21-24

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas trails have evolved throughout the centuries from woodland traces blazed by Native Americans following wild game to a system of 500 designated trailways throughout the state catering to hikers, joggers, cyclists, equestrians, paddlers and motorized trail enthusiasts.

More than 600 people and 100 exhibitors from throughout the nation will gather in the Austin Convention Center Oct. 21-24 for the 17th National Trails Symposium to discuss current national trails issues and share innovative trail construction and financing techniques. This is the first time the trails meeting, which is held every two years, has been held in Texas, giving local trail planners the opportunity to learn from national experts.

Outdoor recreation professionals, trails planners, contractors, land managers, trail users and attendees from diverse public and private backgrounds will explore “The Emerging Role of Trails in American Lifestyles” – this year’s symposium theme. Keynote speakers will include U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Austin Mayor Will Wynn and Linda Armstrong-Kelly, mother of hometown cycling hero Lance Armstrong.

Kicking off the conference at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in the Convention Hall will be a colorful, 15-minute program about the history of American trails, featuring Native Americans, a Texas Ranger re-enactor and costumed children helping to bring the story of the evolution of the Texas trails system from the days of Native Americans and buffalo hunters to today’s railroads and highways. An opening reception with a welcome by Robert L. Cook, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director, will follow.

“This is the start of a multiyear process that provides a chance for Texans to come together for Texas to initiate discussions leading to the development of a state trail plan,” said symposium co-chair Joe Moore of the Grapevine Parks & Recreation Department.

Moore said he believes that because the state’s population is expected to double in the next 30 years, the timing is critical to make sure trails are considered an integral part of transportation and quality of life issues.

“Trails,” he said, “are not the entire answer, but can play a significant role in improving urban Texans’ lifestyles by contributing to their health and fitness, and by conserving areas that might succumb to future development. A number of other states have statewide trail plans, and this is our opportunity to create the Great Texas Trail.”

Serving as a backdrop to the conference is the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that President George W. Bush is proposing $125 million for a new “healthy cities” initiative that would provide funds for trails and other programs, in order to help combat a national obesity crisis and associated health problems. Texas already receives $2.4 million a year from the federally funded Recreational Trail Fund. These funds are distributed each summer through a competitive grant process to help underwrite state and local trail construction projects.

There is no cost for the public to visit the American Lifestyles Trail & Greenway in the Exhibit Hall from 3-6 p.m. on opening day, Oct. 21 and again from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday. The public also may attend Thursday’s free “Texas Trails Conference: Building the Great Texas Trails” (8:30 a.m.-4 pm.) and “Accessibility and Trails” workshops (1-5 p.m.).

Highlighting symposium activities on Friday will be a luncheon keynote address by Wynn, Austin’s mayor. The symposium will conclude Sunday shortly after a luncheon with Doggett and Armstrong-Kelly.

In addition to more than 80 presentations offering a state-of-the-art look at trails as they exist today, the symposium includes a volksmarch on Austin’s 10-mile Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail and 25 field trips organized by the Austin Parks & Recreation Department. Among the field trips offered are visits to the San Antonio Riverwalk and Mission Trail, Enchanted Rock and Hill Country state natural area, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Canyon of the Eagles Lodge & Nature Park and Barton Creek Wilderness Park.

For registration and other conference information, go to the Web (http://www.AmericanTrails.org/) or call (530) 547-2060.