By Jessica Reid, Communications Intern
As the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s North Carolina and Virginia Coordinator, Sarah Sanford brings a keen understanding of the critical connection between the environment and people to the organization.
In her role, she works with communities to build and advocate for trails. With vast experience in the environmental field from education to science to policy, she mostly focused on the natural side of the environment before joining the Greenway staff in May 2019. Her role working with partners to help communities has given her a new viewpoint and allowed her to apply her unique background.
“At the Greenway, we’re so much more people-focused, whereas the environmental field tends to be more focused on plants, animals and land,” she explained. As an organization, the East Coast Greenway Alliance focuses on people by planning trails in spaces that will connect communities and allow for safe and sustainable transportation.
“The planning world has a lot of really good lessons to teach about community engagement and community outreach,” continued Sanford. She said working with communities is “all about building relationships and then building trust.” Sanford has learned that progress takes time and that work must happen when communities are ready. Although trails have many health and economic benefits, inclusionary trail planning and design is critical and community input is respected by the Greenway.
“Learning to see things through a new lens has been really valuable for me, and having the other regional coordinators who have a different background from me teach me how to see through that lens has been awesome,” elaborated Sanford.
While Sanford broadens her planning knowledge, she brings her own expertise and viewpoints to the Greenway. For example, Sanford applies her environmental science background when she thinks about and identifies the various plants, animals and habitat types along the trail.
She earned a master's degree in environmental management from Duke University and a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from the College of William and Mary.
Sanford also developed her environmental background through various roles. “I got my start in environmental education by working as a summer camp counselor at an educational camp where we taught conservation classes to kids,” said Sanford. She explained that in this role, she taught “kids to value the environment, the same way I had been taught to value the environment.”
She worked for many other environmental organizations, such as the Student Conservation Association and National Park Service, where she gained more experience with education and conservation. She also worked for a small consulting company on Superfund site cleanup doing hazardous waste site remediation. In this role, she learned about environmental justice in communities.
As Sanford transitions to a job with a focus on urban planning, she thinks, “How can I take the skills and knowledge I have from working in the environmental field and apply it to greenways, trails and active transportation?” Some of the skills that apply to her role as regional coordinator are communications and using geographic information systems.
These skills prove useful because Sanford’s region has the most mileage to coordinate; North Carolina and Virginia feature both spine and complementary East Coast Greenway routes.
Although she has only been with the Greenway for just over a year, she has worked to secure Greenway designations in both states in her region. Further, she has been working to get the Greenway designated as an official state trail in North Carolina to open it up to more funding opportunities and recognition.
Sanford also has maintained close ties with stakeholders. By chance, she has lived in a variety of places along the Greenway in her region, including Fredericksburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, Raleigh and Durham. As a result, she has many connections to communities and Greenway partners.
In her free time, Sanford enjoys most recreational activities as long as she is outdoors. She loves kayaking, swimming, backpacking and most of all, hiking. Her parents have taken her hiking since before she could walk. She said, “I was so happy to find this job because just being on a trail has always been part of my life.”
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