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10 Years Serving the World Trails Network – A Letter from Founding Chair Galeo Saintz

10 Years Serving the World Trails Network – A Letter from Founding Chair Galeo Saintz

Serving the World Trails Network over the past 10 years has been both a rewarding and enriching experience.

It is seldom that one has the opportunity to engage in a global initiative that has both impact and meaning in a sector that touches on such diverse societal spaces such as tourism, health and rural communities, to name only those that come to mind foremost, and to long-distance hikers and trail users of every kind. 

Last week, during the 8th World Trails Conference and the World Trails Network’s Annual General Assembly, which took place on the island of Skiathos in Greece, it had been agreed by myself and the International Board that these events would be the appropriate opportunity for me to stand down as the International  Chair of the World Trails Network.

Every organization and initiative benefits from a rotation of leadership, and the new ideas and new energy that come from handing over to a new team or a new board cannot be over-emphasized. Such change is essential to good governance and the health of an organization.

The achievements of the last 10 years for our small, yet burgeoning world-wide network are both commendable and inspiring.

The culmination of the 8th World Trails Conference once again highlighted for me the immense commitment and dedication shown by our global community of trails towards fostering collaboration, research, preservation and enhancement of the world’s trails.

Looking back to 2012 at what was then the close of the 3rd World Trails Conference on the island of Jeju in Korea, I cannot help but feel distinct pride for the dedication shown by both our Founding Committee and what was to become the Founding Board when we registered as a nonprofit association in Geneva, Switzerland in 2016.

It has taken a remarkable and diverse community of trails to create this unique network. We are only at the beginning of our journey. I’m satisfied to leave the International Board in good standing, with increased financial resources that we know still have a long way to go to ensure forward financial sustainability as an independent organization. Reflecting on the development of the multiple International Trails Task Teams we have helped shape and support, I am encouraged that this network has become a powerful convening space for all things related to trails, their perpetuation, preservation and promotion. Some of the highlights of my tenure while working with a progressive and diverse Board and engaged with an equally committed Advisory Council,  Regional Hubs and Task Teams, have included the following:

  • Establishment of the Advisory Council and convening space for Task Teams and Regional Hubs, which arose out of the original Founding Committee as a space for volunteer engagement and support of the network’s objectives.
  • The Trails & Beyond annual online publication.
  • World Trails Film Festival – Trails Film.
  • The World Trails Report and Global Trails Survey.
  • The biennial Trail Expeditions in partnership with tourism and trail destinations.
  • The continued support and momentum of the World Trails Conference as an international gathering place for trail organizations and trail enthusiasts, experts and academics alike.
  • The launch of the monthly Trails Talk Series of dialogues and webinars.
  • Founding signatory to the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism by the International Board to accelerate climate action in relation to tourism and trails and to reach Net Zero emissions as soon as possible before 2050.
  • Support for and establishment of the Hub for the Americas regional network as a dedicated node of the World Trails Network working across the Americas.
  • The acquisition of Green Flag Trails International as a tool for enhancing trail management, sustainability and best practices, especially in developing nations.
  • The launch of the International Peace Trails Initiative.
  • The continuation of the International Friendship Trails programme originally established by the Jeju Olle Foundation in Korea.
  • The establishment of a global alliance of trail related conferences, symposiums and summits with leading trail event organizers in Asia, America, Australia, South America and Africa.
  • Through our Task Teams, we saw the launch of the Natasha Luzhkova Trails and Sustainability Toolbox, the creation and development of trail related Field Schools, and the launch of the World Trails Ambassadors programme for emerging leaders.
  • And not least, we have reached out successfully in networking at the highest level with other multilateral organizations, such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), and the UN. Many of these relationships are still in their early stages, but hold promise for opening doors to benefit trails and the sectors with which they overlap.

I strongly advocate that trails have the capacity to shape humanity, by refining our relationships with and access to nature and culture, by enhancing the health and well-being of communities everywhere, and by delivering tangible economic and other benefits to rural communities through tourism, development, and economic upliftment.

I have also come to recognize firsthand as a mountain wilderness guide, how trails connect us not only to the wild out there, but to each other and to ourselves. This has a profound impact on us individually and as communities, leading to a deeper sense of what it means to be human. Trails have a capacity to enhance our humanity and build connections in unexpected ways. 

It is not easy to step away from something one has invested over 10 years of one’s life in helping shape and make a reality, yet I know I leave the Board and my leadership role in good hands, having built meaningful relationships with everyone who has shown up to contribute towards the development of the World Trails Network since the first convening meeting in 2012.

I am also pleased to hand over the position of International Chair to Jackie Randle, who I’ve worked with over the past 10 years and as the first Chair of the Advisory Council. Jackie will bring a different form of leadership, that I believe is essential at this particular juncture in the history of our network. She will take the network into a more consolidated future. Jackie brings a quiet and determined focus that will see the network enhance its strengths and build on the foundations we have already laid in the founding years. I appeal to all members of the network to welcome her in this new role and give her their ongoing support as the World Trails Network grows and focuses strategically on those projects that will further define its impact around the world.

I have no intentions of leaving the network going forward; my aim now is to become more engaged through Task Teams and other projects that can continue to grow our impact and reach across the globe. I continue to lead the Green Flag Trails Initiative and I am honoured to continue to work with and support our Patron, Suh Myung Sook, in establishing a dedicated and active committee to champion the International Peace Trails Initiative through relevant and appropriate partnerships and projects.

I look forward to working with trail colleagues, especially in those spaces that align with my personal interests and commitments relating to trails, which include biodiversity conservation, environmental peacebuilding and nature connection. I also look forward to assisting the Trails and Nature Task Team and guiding the Green Flag Trails initiative to reach a critical scale to bring benefits to trails and trail users around the world. 

Finally, I intend to spend much more time on trails and continue my advocacy for trails at the highest levels with governments, organizations and communities that seek my insight, expertise and enthusiasm related to trails.

Each of us who has been touched by trails in some way, or who works endlessly either as a volunteer or trail manager to preserve and protect the world’s trails, has an obligation to share our love for trails with others and ensure that trails remain loved by all who experience them.

For the love of trails, 

Galeo Saintz

Recap of the 1st Brazilian Trail Congress
Meet Our New International Chair – Jackie Randle
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