AWESOME PROJECT: New rail trail coming to Georgia!

One of the coolest stories we get to tell, here at ioby, is the story in which someone smart and inspired moves away from home to live somewhere new for a period of time, gets exposed to a life-changing idea, and then brings it back home  when they return months or years later. These leaders  are like pollinators, buzzing from state to state, town to town, spreading ideas that work, and leaving  fruit-bearing trees in their wake. It’s a story that never gets old.

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greenways make people happy

Want a good example? Ivette Lopez Bledsoe is a social worker and health counselor who grew up in Georgia, but early in her career moved to Fort Collins, CO, where she was lucky enough to have a world-class greenway trail just outside her door. Suddenly, her day-to-day didn’t revolve around the car. For 18 years, most of life’s to-and-fro happened on that trail. It was a place where she could restore herself, travel and run errands safely without getting in a car, and connect with neighbors. She felt how profoundly her time on the greenway affected her own wellbeing. At work, she constantly witnessed how walking in nature, connecting with neighbors, and breathing fresh air had lasting benefits for her clients. She knew what the research said: that walking outside can often improve our mental health even more successfully than medications can.

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So when Bledsoe and her husband started talking about moving back home to Georgia to be closer to family, it was a real reckoning. The decision was incredibly difficult to make, in large part because they just didn’t know if they could say goodbye to their beloved greenway. If you think that sounds crazy, imagine your quality of life if you could safely and easily bike to work, send your children to school by bike, and even bike out to run errands or get a quick summers’ evening ice cream cone. Goodbye, road rage. Hello, fresh air. “It absolutely impacted me, and it made me realize how it could be,” says Bledsoe. “So coming back, that was probably the most difficult decision, knowing that I was going to give that up. I really was having a very difficult time. And I remember taking my last bike ride as a resident, and being very emotional about it.”

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“Here in Georgia,” she continues, “the safety issue is very big for me. I’m very worried about my kids; I can’t really send them out to bike here. I see people walking on busy streets with no sidewalk, riding bikes on streets with no bike lane. There aren’t a lot of options.”

sometimes you CAN take it with you

Here’s the best part of the story. Instead of feeling helpless, or telling herself she’d just never get to bike to work  again, Bledsoe got active. She sought out a team of people who had been working for a decade to bring a similar greenway to Georgia – running from Athens to Union Point – and she dove right in. Today, Bledsoe has been on the Firefly Trail board for nearly a year, and she can’t wait to see it finished – hopefully in the next 5-10 years. She and the rest of the board are raising $60,000 right now, via ioby, to jumpstart construction of the 39-mile trail, which will make Athens, Maxeys, Union Point, and all the other small communities along its path safer, healthier, and more economically stable. The hope is that historical points of interest along the way – like the old theater in Union Point – will be revived by new bike and foot-traffic. “Union Point is literally one of those dying communities you hear about,” explains Bledsoe, “that got blown away during the recession. And it’s unbelievably adorable.” The town’s main industry, until recently, had been a sock-making factory that’s now shuttered.

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“When it’s all said and done,” says Bledsoe, “this is going to be not just an Athens or a Union Point amenity, but a state amenity. Because a lot of people do rails-to-trails vacations. We see it breathing life into these small communities: hotels, restaurants, breweries. All kinds of things are there and waiting.”

Bledsoe feels incredibly lucky to have experienced life on a greenway, and wants to bring that experience to her new community. “I wanted my kids to understand that the car is not the only way to get around in life,” she explains, “and that when you get outside your car, beautiful things start to happen. You actually start to see smiling faces. You stop and talk. You actually see plants and animals and things you would never have noticed. I want this Firefly Trail to be completed so that those residents in those communities can experience that.”

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So, who do you know that’s a pollinator of good ideas? Someone in your family? Someone in your town? Is it you? Can you see why we never get tired of the pollinator story? It’s the story of our interdependence, and our collective evolution towards happier, stronger, greener, cleaner communities.

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.