The Evansville Region has long been celebrated for its scenic landscapes and outdoor recreational opportunities with so much to offer current and future residents. One of the driving forces behind the city and region’s commitment to promoting an active lifestyle and connecting people with nature is the Evansville Trails Coalition (ETC). We spent time with Executive Director Lorie Van Hook to better understand the history, vision, and impact ETC has had and will continue to have on the Quality of Place for the Evansville Region.
When asked: “What’s the mission of ETC?” Lorie shared: “We Connect People And Places, Promote Active Living, And Advocate For The Development Of Multiuse Trails.” While the mission is specific and impactful as we dove into the conversation further ETC does so much more…
Promoting Active Living: ETC, established and incorporated in April of 2009, as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the construction, expansion, and preservation of trails throughout the city. With a vision to provide safe and accessible pathways that encourage residents and visitors alike to lead healthy, active lives while enjoying the natural beauty of Evansville. As ETC has grown and become more mature, trails continue to stay at the heart of this work, but ETC as an organization understands the value of deeper investment towards active living and has approached this opportunity through their Bike Share Program and UpGrade initiative.
Since 2016 the Bike Share Program has recorded more than 11k bike rides and more than 4k members!!
Collaboration and Community Engagement: ETC operates through a collaborative approach, bringing together various stakeholders, including city officials, community organizations, businesses, and passionate individuals, to achieve their common goals. By fostering partnerships and encouraging community engagement, the organization has been successful in garnering support and resources to develop and maintain a robust trail network. One secret that Lorie shared is that not many individuals know the amount of planning it takes to create a new trail or even to expand a current trail.
“We are all things trails and connectivity, but more importantly we are all things PEOPLE!”- Lorie
Expanding the Trail Network: One of the primary objectives of the ETC is to expand the existing trail network within the city. By working closely with local government agencies, they identify strategic locations for new trails, ensuring connectivity and accessibility to different neighborhoods and key destinations. Within this process ETC prioritizes communities and neighborhoods that have not seen a level of investment related to infrastructure to ensure that the growth of the city and region wide trails system is equitable and accessible to all. One way ETC has done this is through the Complete Streets Initiative. The Coalition actively advocates for funding and implements sustainable design practices to create pathways that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized forms of transportation. As we spoke with Lorie, non-traditional transportation is a key aspect of neighborhood connectivity and how people move around the city.
Trail Maintenance and Enhancement: In addition to trail expansion, ETC places great emphasis on trail maintenance and enhancement. The organization recognizes the importance of keeping trails in excellent condition to ensure the safety and enjoyment of trail users. They collaborate with volunteers, community groups, and city departments to organize regular clean-up events, trail repair initiatives, and landscaping projects. These efforts help preserve the natural beauty of the trails and ensure their sustainability for years to come.
Promoting Trail Awareness and Education: The Coalition understands the significance of raising awareness about the benefits of trails and outdoor activities. They organize educational workshops, public events, and social media campaigns to inform the community about the trail system, safety guidelines, and the positive impact of an active lifestyle. By fostering a sense of pride and ownership among residents, the organization aims to create a community-wide culture of trail usage and appreciation.
“Our city and communities are fortunate in the fact that we have more than 12 miles of connected multi-use trails, and if we are talking about all trails there are more than 80 miles of trails across Evansville”- Lorie
Positive Impacts on the Community: The work of ETC has had numerous positive impacts on the local community. Trails provide opportunities for physical exercise, recreation, and relaxation, contributing to improved public health and overall well-being. They also enhance the quality of life for residents, attract visitors, and promote economic development by encouraging outdoor tourism and supporting local businesses.
“People want trails and when we build them, our residents and visitors use them.”- Lorie
Looking Ahead: As ETC continues to grow and evolve, their dedication to expanding and maintaining a comprehensive trails network remains steadfast. While Evansville is in the title of the organization when speaking with Lorie, we learned that regionally we have an opportunity to think more comprehensively about connecting trails across county lines to create more connectivity for the Evansville Region and draw more investment from a state and federal level. It was exciting to learn that ETC will be working on a regional trails master plan with other organizations and stakeholders across the Evansville Region that share a vision for connectivity, active living, and access. ETC’s commitment to collaboration, community engagement, and education will be instrumental in further enhancing Evansville’s reputation as a vibrant, active city and region that embraces its natural surroundings.
When asked: “What makes our trails unique to other communities?” Lorie- “The river and having trails along the river is a distinguishing asset that so many communities desire, and we have it.”
You can see that trails are really an important and valuable part of regionalism, quality of place, and connectivity. As we closed the discussion, we asked Lorie “What can someone do to support trails in our region?”, Lorie shared “Become a Trailblazer !” simply put a trailblazer is an advocate and someone that utilizes the trails system!
We hope to see you out on a trail soon 😊