When you think of Trailnet, what comes to mind? For some, it’s the whimsically-named bike rides like Spring Chicken, Potsticker Poker and AppleKnocker Gran Fondo. Others may think of the fun, beer-themed events: Beans, Bikes & Brews, Pint Nights and Bicrobrews. Then there’s the Trailnet Century Club, for those esteemed cyclists who have completed 100-milers with the organization.
As much as Trailnet staff and its members like to have fun, there’s also a serious side to its work: advocating for safer biking and walking paths in urban and suburban areas. For many years, non-profit group has guided local municipalities on best practices for adding bike lanes, safe crossings and devices for traffic calming; it has also offered safety education and free helmets for at-risk kids.
Trailnet gave us Grant’s Trail, the Riverfront Trail (now part of the Mississippi Greenway) and biking and walking paths across the refurbished Eads Bridge and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The latter provides a vital link in the bi-state trail system, connecting the Riverfront Trail in Missouri and the MCT Confluence Trail in Illinois.
Trailnet also lobbied for the creation of the Great Rivers Greenway District as well as the Metro East Parks and Recreation District in Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois.
As Trailnet marks its 30th anniversary this year, it’s looking ahead to perhaps its biggest undertaking yet: developing a series of on-street trails for cyclists and pedestrians that are protected from traffic. The paths will intersect the planned Chouteau Greenway in downtown St. Louis, reaching into neighborhoods from north to south. The plan is called “Connecting St. Louis,” and it looks to be chock full of good things like economic development along the paths, easier access to bus lines and MetroLink for those without cars, and better health — since trails encourage more walking, running and biking.
When Trailnet Board President Michael Hickey first got involved with the organization about 20 years ago, he thought group bike rides were all Trailnet did. As he started getting to know other members, he found out Trailnet was advocating for safe biking and walking throughout St. Louis. He’s emphatic about the benefits the new protected bike and pedestrian paths will bring.
“When I think about the kind of city that I want to live in, it’s a place where my kids are safe,” Hickey said. “If they want to do active things around the city — like biking and walking — they will have a safe place to do it.”
Who Is Trailnet?
Trailnet staffers include urban planners, community health advocates and creative thinkers who know how to leverage political will and harness the business community to get things done.
“We started as a group of biking enthusiasts organizing bike rides, and we began to evolve into several different things. First, it was trail building. Then, it was pushing for all the infrastructure one would expect a city to have to keep cyclists and walkers safe,” said Ralph Pfremmer, CEO of Trailnet. He joined the organization in 2014 after serving on the board and being a supporter for many years.
“Lately, we’ve turned the corner and are much more of a civic organization leveraging the platform of walking and biking in order to better our community,” he said.
To engage the community in its Connecting St. Louis project, Trailnet has held open houses and has invited people from government, transportation, business and cultural institutions to participate on project committees.
“This project is very important to the community. A lot of cities are doing it,” Pfremmer said. “There’s a lot of data supporting the idea of trails connecting cultural centers and educational institutions and central business districts. These seamless connections are what make cities great.
“St. Louis needs to get with it,” he continued. “We have a lot of exciting things going on, whether NGA [the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to be built in North City), a downtown mobility plan, the Chouteau Greenway and Trailnet’s plan. All these things are coming together. That’s what we’re all about.”
A Hoppy 30th
After 30 years of inspiring the St. Louis community, Trailnet now has more than 2,000 members, 15,000 newsletter subscribers, and support from scores of business and political leaders for its Connecting St. Louis project.
To mark the monumental anniversary, Trailnet partnered with Urban Chestnut Brewing Company to introduce the Trailnet 30, a single-hop pilsner that was unveiled at a Pint Night fundraiser in March.
Beside asking for the beer at local restaurants, Pfremmer says there are many ways people can support Trailnet. “Get involved! Come to our events and rides. Join as a member. Sign up for our newsletter,” he said. “Get on this train. Our role is to bring everyone together, to create the cohesion that is needed to move forward.”
Trailnet members get many benefits: two free ride passes, a T-shirt, and subscriptions to Terrain and Across STL magazines, the latter an annual publication it co-created with The Katy Land Trust.
“What you’re doing with those dollars you donate to Trailnet is empowering our staff to create the seamless connections that St. Louis needs,” Pfremmer said.
Plus, being a Trailnet member is just plain fun. “The first thing we do is try to have a good time,” Pfremmer said. “We throw a lot of parties. We do a lot of encouragement of active living, and we organize about 30 bike rides a year for all levels. You can start at 10 miles and work your way up to 30 or 100 miles. We really get people moving.”
Terri Waters is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. She enjoys exploring hiking and biking trails and likes the camaraderie of organized rides as well.