By Adam Page Taylor, Trail Conference Volunteer
On Jan. 11, my volunteer work for the Trail Conference led me to Trenton. The flags atop the State House snapped briskly as I walked up to the building’s front entrance. Members of the carpenters union, most clad in neon T-shirts pulled over hooded sweatshirts, had assembled and were milling about to stay warm. New Jersey Education Association members walked by, displaying pins of support for various issues affecting our schools. Despite having been a volunteer for the Trail Conference for the past six months, this way of supporting trails was entirely new to me.
Last fall, I was volunteering at Trail Conference Headquarters a few times a week, assisting the Invasives Strike Force with GIS mapping. One afternoon in mid-December I began talking to Peter Dolan, New Jersey Program Coordinator, about the Pilgrim Pipeline and its potential impact on a number of trail sections overseen by the Trail Conference. The proposed project involves two parallel pipelines, each 178 miles long, sending Bakken shale oil and refined products such as kerosene between Albany and Linden, N.J. It quickly became clear that there was plenty of advocacy work to be done, and a need for volunteers to assist with this critical endeavor.
Why? Because my voice matters. I tend to think advocacy, in very simple terms, consists of sharing and listening. One shares his passions and reasons for supporting or opposing a cause with individuals who agree or disagree with his view. Actively listening to their responses provides insight into how to potentially win them over, or realizing their stance is absolute, and your energies are better utilized elsewhere. Just as important is actively listening to the responses of your supporters and learning how to be more effective in communicating your message to those who share your goals. Having just started work on my master’s degree in sustainability studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey and with 15 years of event management experience under my belt, I pledged to help the Trail Conference by encouraging others to take action in what they believe is just for trails and organizations that maintain and protect them.
A few days into 2016, I received an e-mail from Peter introducing me to New Jersey Bill A4197, which would authorize spending of the open space funding N.J. voters approved in November 2014. The State Senate had voted unanimously to approve the bill, and State Assembly approval would be a critical step in obtaining the promised funding, which would benefit groups that support open space preservation efforts throughout New Jersey—groups like the Trail Conference.
Two days, later I was participating in a discussion with members of the New Jersey Keep It Green Coalition about how to best mobilize our supporters and help secure passage of the bill. We talked about how to improve our communication about advocacy issues to our members and how to encourage members to respond to “calls for action” when necessary, whether that be writing letters, picking up the phone, or showing up at an event in-person. I admire this attitude; I feel it’s critical for any organization to be consistently evaluating, refining, and strengthening the communication it has with its members. The Trail Conference must listen to what is important to its members while also sharing what is important to the organization.
With a call to action in place for Bill A4197, we assembled in Trenton on that brisk day in mid-January, encouraging members of the Assembly to pass the bill as they entered the State House floor. The bill was indeed passed by the Assembly, but Governor Chris Christie pocket-vetoed it the following week.
As Bill S969, the open space funding was again approved with strong bipartisan support by the Senate on March 14. Now known as Bill A780, it must receive Assembly Appropriations Committee approval before moving to the Assembly Floor for a vote. It will then be sent to the Governor’s office for signature. The Trail Conference’s work on the issue will continue until these voter-mandated funds have been distributed.
It was a trails advocacy issue—the Pilgrim Pipeline—that sparked my interest in helping the Trail Conference’s conservation efforts, and within a month I found myself lobbying at the state capital on behalf of the organization. It’s more important than ever to ensure that the interests of the Trail Conference and its members are represented on both a local and state level. When done with righteous intention, at the end of the day, both advocacy and lobbying efforts are about speaking up for what you believe in. Call yourself an advocate, call yourself a lobbyist, call yourself someone who believes in something so deeply that you take action.
Get involved, make a difference! Here’s how you can help our advocacy efforts: