Dr. James Hoefler, Political Science

Land Use and Transportation 

Professor Jim Hoefler, Coordinator of the Policy Studies Program, used his participation in the Valley & Ridge project at Dickinson to help design a curriculum component related to rail trails for his Senior Seminar in Policy Management. Students teamed up in small groups of two and three, then contacted rail trail managers in various locations and signed them up as “clients.”  Most students worked on trails in South-Central Pennsylvania, but several students chose to work on trails closer to their home towns in the mid-Atlantic and upper mid-west regions.

Students catalogued the natural assets, historical significance, and built amenities for their respective trails. They also created maps with key features noted (using Google Maps), and developed new (or vastly improved existing) Wikipedia pages for their trails. All students visited their trails to get a more personal sense of the space they were archiving, and most met directly with their clients to work out details of their project.

Rail-trails operate as “linear parks” or “greenways” that are built on abandoned railroad beds and enhance the communities through which they pass in a number of ways. Rail trails:

  • Create healthy recreation opportunities by providing people of all ages with attractive, safe, accessible and low- or no-cost places to cycle, walk, hike, jog, ski, and bird-watch (many trails also include a path for equestrian use).
  • Help people incorporate exercise into their daily routines;
  • Create viable transportation corridors for local residents, reducing traffic on nearby roads;
  • Help reserve green space and important natural landscapes;
  • Provide needed links between fragmented habitats for local fauna;
  • Facilitate wetland preservation and improvement of air and water quality;
  • Allow users to experience nature with minimal environmental impact;
  • Enhance economic development in the local area (as in the case of trailside businesses);
  • Link communities, help build a sense of community, and become sources of community identity and pride;
  • Highlight, provide access to, and preserve historic and cultural resources, and;
  • Create educational opportunities regarding all the above.

Overall, rail trails act like ongoing Valley & Ridge projects that members of the community and visitors can use to:

  • learn about the concept of sustainability in its varied interpretations, and;
  • locate themselves, to help them achieve a sense of space.[1]

Having students enhance their own understanding of rail trails and to share that with others via social media proved to be an ideal application of the learning Prof. Hoefler did in the Valley & Ridge project.



[1] See goals of Valley & Ridge at Dickinson. https://www.dickinson.edu/info/20052/sustainability/2464/valley_and_ridge