WASHINGTON — Mile markers are now up along the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a measure to give the trail a greater aura of safety. But there’s another symbol of safety along the MBT: the Trail Rangers of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).
They bike this trail and others in D.C. on most weekdays, with the aim of making the commute a little smoother and safer.
“We’re essentially a team of helpful and friendly folks out over 50 hours a week to make sure the trail experience is a good one,” says Garrett Hennigan, the grassroots advocacy coordinator for WABA.
The Trail Ranger program has been around since 2013. It operates thanks to a grant from DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration. The Trail Rangers cover about 20 miles of trail, focusing on the MBT, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, the Marvin Gaye Trail and the Suitland Parkway Trail.
Ra Amin is one of the rangers. His yellow-flagged trailer is full of tools for fixing bikes, and for trimming back overly ambitious shrubs along the trail.
“We’re a bicycle shop, a garden shop and outreach,” says Amin. “And we have on our list of things to do in the morning is to pack enthusiasm. So, we want to come out here and make sure that not only we have a good experience, but the trail users have a good experience.”
But, perhaps the most effective role of the Trail Ranger is merely being seen. The MBT has wrestled with a bad image after muggings and assaults along the trail.
“Perception is everything,” says Hennigan. “Through telling people that we’re out here, and by actually being out here, we’re trying to turn those perceptions around.”
Hennigan says the Trail Rangers serve as an extra set of eyes on the trail. But, he says, the best safety measure for the trail is its completion from Union Station to Silver Spring. Currently there are several gaps in the trail forcing riders onto streets for parts of their commute.
“We tend to think that for a trail to be safe and popular it should have some people around at all times,” says Hennigan.
In addition to riding the trail, the rangers also organize events like scavenger hunts and coffee hours to connect with riders. The once-a-month coffee hour is a trail favorite.
“Oh, it’s the best. I always make sure to bike on Trail Ranger day and to come this way and to stop and say hello, get some coffee and chat and find out what’s going on with the trails and the city,” says Michelle, one of the riders stopping to sip coffee and eat pastries on the way to work.
Ultimately for Amin, his job is to make people feel good about riding the trail.
“Whether it’s the beginning of the day, the middle of the day or the end of the day, to give them that enthusiasm. I think people appreciate that.”