Circuit Spotlight: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Anya Saretzky

Anya Saretzky is the Project Manager of Trail Development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. In her role, Anya works closely with the Circuit Trails Coalition to promote sustainable communities in the Greater Philadelphia Region.

We spoke with Anya about her role with RTC and the impact her work is having on the Greater Philadelphia region.

You have a background working for a variety of nonprofits, such as Power Up Gambia and Urbanstead. What brought you to RTC?

My passion is for building community by promoting sustainability. What better way to do that then to commit myself to the development of one of the nation’s largest trail networks? I’d already interned (twice!) with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia while I was in grad school, so I’d had a taste of cycling advocacy. When the chance to work at RTC came up, I understood the opportunity I could have to ensure that people in our region have sustainable transportation options.

As project manager for trail development, what’s your role entail?

I have a set of trail development projects in the Circuit Trails region where I work on the ground to ensure these projects move through all stages of trail development – resulting in lovely trails open to the public. I also manage our youth programming which helps young people develop leadership skills, gets them out on the Circuit Trails, and teaches them about our local watersheds.  Our programming culminates each summer with a five-day Youth Sojourn biking and camping trip!

Additionally, I encourage hospitals to support the Circuit Trails. The first step of that process is coordinating with hospitals to execute clinician-led walks on Circuit Trails. I also manage trail user surveys and trail counts on a targeted set of Circuit Trails. Finally, I run operations for the Circuit Trails Coalition, making sure that all of the 65 non-profit organizations, foundations and agencies are up to date on Circuit Trail developments and are effectively communicating with one another. As you can see, I keep busy!

In your time with RTC what changes have you noticed in Philadelphia biking culture?

One huge development is Indego, Philly’s new bike share program. It lets people try out biking who may not have otherwise. Hopefully they get hooked! The opening of the Schuylkill Boardwalk has also been big – it has quickly become something people identify with Philly. Associating our identity with trails is important in promoting a culture shift. These are just two examples of the growing momentum around biking and trail development. With that kind of momentum, more people can’t help but get out on the trails!

Tell us about the Youth Bike Summit you recently attended.  What was a major takeaway from your experience?

I was so impressed with all the youth attendees! (Of course RTC’s Circuit Trails Youth Leaders that attended and presented were the most impressive). A recurring theme I noticed was that young people are not only the future, but they are the present. It was inspiring to hear from young people that are not just preparing to be future leaders but are already moving cycling issues in their communities forward. For example, a brother and sister duo learned GIS and secured a multi-million dollar grant to identify where bike infrastructure was needed in their community and get it installed. Jaw-dropping! I also loved hearing from city council members who said when young people demand action from them, they can’t help but say yes.

How can the addition of new segments of the Circuit help promote the concept of sustainable communities in Philadelphia?

I talk to a lot of people for whom biking as transit appeals to them but they are intimidated to ride on streets. I totally understand that mindset – I used to be one of those people! As more trails are built and more trail connections are created, a much less scary means of biking as transportation is becoming available to people all across the greater Philadelphia region. The more trips that can be completed by bike, the more cars we can get off the roads.

As an outspoken fan of the Delaware River Trail, why is this your favorite Circuit Trail?

The Delaware River Trail, parts of which are still in development, is my favorite because it’s right down the street from where I live in South Philly. I love the Washington Avenue Pier which is a surprising little slice of nature tucked away behind all the traffic of I-95 and Columbus Boulevard.  I’m looking forward to watching this trail grow so that one day I can ride north to visit my parents up in Mercer County all via Circuit Trails!

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