What began as a couple volunteer activities turned into over a quarter century of rewarding work for Lynn Conrad.
Conrad, executive director of Rail-Trail Council of NEPA, was awarded the 25th Annual Thomas P. Shelburne Environmental Leadership Award during the 29th Annual Evening for Northeast Pennsylvania’s Environment held Oct. 24 at the Woodlands Inn and Resort.
The program is sponsored by The Northeast Environmental Partners. The group is comprised of members from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, PPL Corporation, Procter & Gamble Paper Products Company, and Wilkes University.
The partners honored Conrad for “her more than 25 years of dedication to the mission of transforming the D&H Rail Trail from an abandoned rail-bed to one of the premier rail trails in Pennsylvania.”
The D&H trail extends from the Simpson viaduct up through Forest City to the New York state border.
In 1993 Conrad was asked to volunteer to organize a trail day for the then two-year old Rail-Trail Council of NEPA. After the trail was purchased Conrad took on part-time duties working for Rail Trail Council.
“I was asked to organize a bird walk, a bike ride and after the purchase it became a little more,” laughed Conrad.
The acquisition coincided with Conrad’s interest in bike riding and desire to have a place that it could be done safely.
“When they said they were going to turn this old rail line into a linear park, that just hit home for me,” said Conrad. “Recycling. Repurposing. I found that intriguing.”
Not a fundraiser naturally, Conrad became involved with the grant writing aspect of the project and locating revenue sources.
“I hate to ask people for money, but fortunately we had people (on the council) who are very good at that,” explained Conrad. “I preferred the grant writing and finding sources for funding.”
One of the surprising things Conrad discovered was the irony that large amounts of the trail’s funding would come from Federal Highway Administration.
“Every state has to put aside a proportion of their budget for non-traditional sources of travel,” said Conrad.
Another hurdle she’s overcome through the years was the initial resistance to the overall idea of converting an old rail bed into a linear park. Resistance that she now can laugh about.
“A lot of people were not happy with the idea of building something that would bring people from out of the area,” said Conrad. “There’ll be drive by shootings, people breaking into my house,” she said were some of the concerns voiced at the time.
Conrad is pleased the resistance has faded, and people are seeing the positive benefits the trail has brought to the area.
“It’s people on bikes, grandparents with their kids, people looking for birds,” related Conrad.
Aside from the beautification of the area and the cooperation between the trail and local towns and municipalities, Conrad sees the project as being responsible for preserving some of the area’s history.
“I think people like that we are trying to keep the history of the railroad alive,” said Conrad. “The history of the railroad has a lot to with what the towns used to be.”
While Conrad is appreciative of the award, she says the most satisfying aspect of her involvement is seeing the trail being utilized.
“To see people using the trails, coming from all different areas is what it’s all about,” Conrad said.