Connecting Communities One Trail at a Time
Connecting Communities One Trail at a Time
Lynn Reecer had an idea for making her community safer, healthier, greener, and more tightly knit—and she made it happen.
Web Choice Award
You'll have the opportunity to vote for your favorite of this year's 10 Good Neighbor Award finalists to receive the Web Choice Award. Visit Realtor.org/GNA between Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 to cast your vote.
By Tracey Velt
It’s just another day for City of Fort Wayne employee Paul “P.J.” Thuringer. He grabs his briefcase and helmet and jumps on his bicycle for his three-mile commute to work. “I ride my bike to work every day on the Fort Wayne Trails,” says Thuringer.
Jim Reilly, another Fort Wayne resident, is also a trail rider. The trails enabled him to easily start a fitness program because they were so accessible from his home.
The Fort Wayne Trails (previously the Aboite New Trails) cover some 61 miles along major roads, connecting the suburbs with the city center. They were completed thanks to Lynn Reecer, a real estate practitioner with Reecer Properties Inc. in Fort Wayne, Ind., and her cofounder Stephanie Schultz.
For Reecer, the trails represent more than just a transportation or fitness option—they’re a place to connect. “Moms with babies in strollers can connect with other moms,” says Reecer. “People are getting out of the house and talking to each other.”
Built Out of Love and Frustration
It’s a beautiful outcome for Reecer, who had grown tired of seeing her children unable to visit friends safely by bike. Reecer dreamed of having bike trails that would enable riders to avoid busy roads. But it wasn’t until the death of a good friend, hit by a car while cycling, that Reecer took action. “Stephanie and I sat on my porch, got out a map, and drew where the trails should go,” says Reecer. “We wanted them to connect with already-built trails and be along main roads in plain sight, for both convenience and safety reasons,” she says.
After a year of planning, Reecer held a public meeting to gauge community interest. The response was overwhelming. “In 2003, we formed a board of 15 members,” says Reecer. “We chose functional experts—a marketing-public relations person, a finance person, someone who had solid connections to the government, the head of public works, the head of the county highway systems. It was because of those strategic choices that we got things done so quickly,” she says.
“Regular citizens don’t build infrastructure, but I had a vision and just forged ahead,” Lynn Reecer, cofounder of Fort Wayne Trails.
Applying the Principles of Business
“The thing that set us apart was that we looked at it as a nonprofit business, not just a cause,” says Schultz. “Lynn chose people with certain skills, talents, and resources to fit the [needed] roles. She put the right people together to make something happen.” And, that, she says, was the biggest key to the success of the trails.
Once the board was in place, the group needed funding. “It was very grassroots. We held fund-raisers in people’s homes, and we received two grants. It was the ideal public-private partnership,” says Reecer, who has raised more than $13 million for the trails. In recent years, Reecer developed corporate matching programs.
After determining where the first set of trails should go, Reecer and the board worked with city and county government to reach an agreement for them to maintain the trails. “It takes a lot to build these trails. It’s major infrastructure. Telephone poles must be moved, trees cut down, gas lines moved. We had to secure right-of-way since these trail sections are all owned by different people. Regular citizens don’t build infrastructure, but I had a vision and just forged ahead,” she says.
The speed at which the project progressed is a testament to the dedication of the board members, people with influence in government and an understanding of the project’s importance, says Reecer.
Since there were already nine miles of trails in the city center, Reecer’s strategy was to connect those trails to the suburbs. To some, the odd snippets of trail being built seemed convoluted. But Reecer says the project team had to build the trail in the cheapest way possible.
“We had to think strategically. It costs $500,000 or more a mile to build the trail, so we had to choose sections that piggybacked on other construction projects. For example, it’s much cheaper to build a trail as part of the infrastructure when a new school is being built,” she says.
For nine years, Reecer worked as a volunteer on the project 30 to 40 hours a week. Her last big job was merging the trail system she and Schultz created, Aboite New Trails, with another local trail system to form Fort Wayne Trails. With 61 miles of trails now connected, the group is working on expanding the trails to areas of town where they don’t reach, primarily on the northwest side of town. Reecer is now a consultant for Fort Wayne Trails but is no longer involved in day-to-day trail-building activities.
Although the trails were inspired by a safety concern, they’re now helping her with her real estate business. “I use the trails to sell homes. It’s a huge advantage to buy a home by a trail system. Kids can more easily get to their after-school activities,” she says.
No one knows that better than Thuringer.
“We only have one car. I bought my house near where I worked and near a bike trail. It saves us a couple thousand dollars a year not to have two cars, and that doesn’t even include a car payment,” he says. “Lynn is a legend in Fort Wayne.”
For Reecer, it’s just good to know that people are benefiting. “What really touches me is when I see people using the trails, waving hello to each other, leaning out of car windows to say ‘Hi’ to someone walking on the trail—it’s a panacea for any problem a city has. It’s socialization, it’s exercise for families who can’t afford to join the YMCA, it’s a way to spend time with family, and it’s free,” she says. “It made me fall in love with my town, my community.”
Lynn Reecer is one of 10 finalists for REALTOR® Magazine's Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program that recognizes REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. We’ll bring you the story of one of the finalists each day until October 20. On October 21 online voting will open for a Web Choice Award. The top vote getter will receive a $500 gift card from Lowe's. Votes will be accepted through October 28.
Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, the five winners will be named on November 2. (Web Choice voting does not play a role in the selection of the winners.) The winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects, $2,500 Lowe's gift cards, and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Anaheim on November 12. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause and $1,000 Lowe's gift cards.
Read Other Published Profiles of the 2011 Finalists: