From the Executive Director: Promoting a Love of Nature as Part of the ‘New Normal’

July 23, 2020
Joshua Howard
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


From the Executive Director: Promoting a Love of Nature as Part of the ‘New Normal’
Young girls sitting near a waterfall. Photo by Asher Lov.


2020 has reinforced how essential the outdoors are and how we are stronger and more resilient when we work together.

Many things have changed over the past five months. It started with the recommendation to wash our hands more often, then suddenly we were encouraged to stay home. A new term called “social distancing” became the in-vogue way to appreciate someone else’s personal space.

Next, we started wearing masks and gloves when we dared to venture out for groceries or to the post office. We saw the stock market crumble, unemployment skyrocket, and a “new normal” way of living evolved, though it is anything but normal.

Life has not been easy. Schools were closed, many stores and companies are now out of business, and people are still scrambling to figure out what to do next.

Many of us have learned how to be teachers for our children while attempting to be remote employees living in a virtual world of video chats with bosses and coworkers. New hobbies and activities are crammed in to fill the time. There are new cooks and bakers, puzzles and games are all the rage, and the outdoors has become a refuge from the confinement of our homes. People are flocking to the streets, bike paths, and trails all over the region.

We have seen acts of heroism from doctors, nurses, and all the others who helped keep our society from falling apart. We call them essential workers, and during these tough times, they became society’s angels.

For many, nature and trails became “essential” for their survival. Parks and trails have seen unprecedented visitation. New hikers and those with miles and miles of experience depended on the work that 99 years of volunteerism has provided—a network of trails that would be there when we needed it most.

Without making a headline or an afternoon briefing, the work of generations of Trail Conference staff and volunteers quietly provided the masses of people the elixir of sanity, serenity, and exercise we needed to survive these difficult times.

Without promotion or encouragement, society turned to trails and nature when we were the most vulnerable and scared. As we return to functioning as a “normal” society, I hope that this newfound affinity for nature continues. I hope that the public’s love affair with trails continues and becomes a part of our new normal.

I am optimistic for that future. As leaders of responsible recreation in a growing community of walkers, hikers, and riders, the Trail Conference can cultivate this new interest and turn it into a real passion for the care of nature. And we can do that right now.

We’ve outlined parts of our 2020 season’s Recovery and Response plan. As we continue to respond and adapt to this changing landscape, your feedback on engaging a new generation of trail users is invited. Send me your thoughts at [email protected], or share them during an upcoming Trail Conference Town Hall meeting. (Find the schedule here.) Because working together, we are stronger.

Stay safe. We hope to see you on the trails soon.

Joshua Howard
Executive Director
[email protected]