APRHF Trails & Rails Volunteers Donate 1,700+ Hours of Time

As sunny days and warmer temperatures become more abundant, the Summer 2014 season of the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief continues to be in  full swing. Volunteers based out of Union Station have been riding the train between downtown Chicago, Illinois and La Plata, Missouri four days per week since mid-May, presenting interpretative programs that help educate passengers about the natural and historical features seen in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. As of this article’s publication, a total of 32 programs have been presented and more than 1,700 hours of volunteer time has been donated to APRHF, Amtrak, and the National Park Service (NPS). Trails & Rails is a partnership between Amtrak and the NPS, with our group between Chicago and La Plata being sponsored locally by the APRHF and Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.

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 APRHF  Trails & Rails Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern swears in junior rangers

You have plenty of chances still to participate in a Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief. Volunteers continue to present interpretive programs on the westbound Southwest Chief (Train #3) between Chicago, IL and La Plata, MO on Tuesdays and Thursdays now through mid-September. Volunteers also present programs on the eastbound Southwest Chief (Train #4) between La Plata, MO and Chicago, IL on Wednesdays and Fridays. Additional programs are planned for November and December… stay tuned to this website for details on dates.

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 APRHF Trails & Rails Chicago Trainee Robert Neil talks to a passenger about the history of Galesburg

The APRHF has… and continues to be… a very key supporter of the success of the Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief.  Unlike most Trails & Rails programs across the country, our group between Chicago and La Plata is NOT sponsored by a individual unit of the National Park Service. Part of the reason for that is the lack of NPS units and administrative park rangers along the route in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. This ultimately results in our program not receiving as much funding as other Trails & Rails groups do. Donations from our volunteers and others to the Trails & Rails Fund at APRHF have made up the difference to keep us on the train. More than $1,000 from the fund was used last year to purchase the wireless speaker system used on the train by guides. Other expenses continue to come in… including $150 that was recently used to purchase speaker system chargers for both ends of the route. This allows volunteers not to have to bring speaker system chargers on the train and to have back-up chargers if repairs are needed. The majority of funds from the Trails & Rails Fund at APRHF are used to print complimentary handouts for passengers that include Chicago maps/guides, train route guides, information about NPS units of the Midwest, jr. ranger booklets, and coloring sheets.

Donations to APRHF’s Trails & Rails Fund can be made by mailing a check to: APRHF, 204 E. Moore Street, La Plata, MO 63549. Be sure to mark “Trails & Rails Fund” on the memo line of your check. Donations to the Trails & Rails Fund are exclusively used  for Trails & Rails purposes.

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 APRHF Trails & Rails Chicago Volunteer Alane Morgan smiles as she greets passengers

APRHF made the Trails & Rails program possible on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO by reaching a deal regarding lodging for volunteers with Amtrak and the National Park Service in December 2012. Supporters of Trails & Rails are encouraged to stay at the Depot Inn & Suites, where the guides stay, when they are visiting Northeast Missouri and thank the owners and manager of the hotel for their dedication to the program. Trails & Rails volunteers stay at the Depot Inn & Suites during mid-week periods which tend to be less busy for the hotel.

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APRHF Trails &R ails Asst. Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern provides SOP training for two new volunteers (Bob Murray and Joe Kuczynski) at the Glenview Public Library on June 25, 2014.

While volunteers are based out of Chicago Union Station, there have been several new developments involving Trails & Rails out in La Plata, MO as well that you should be aware of.

First, Amy Cox, who serves as Vice-President of APRHF, has formally joined Trails & Rails as the Assistant La Plata, MO Coordinator. She will assist La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox in numerous duties in La Plata, MO related to Trails & Rails, including coordination of guides and their equipment during their turn-around stay at the Depot Inn & Suites. While Amy has informally been helping out Trails & Rails volunteers over the past couple of years once they get off the train… by officially becoming a guide herself…  any hours Amy spends assisting guides will now count toward the program’s volunteer hours total. This number is important when determining the success and funding levels of any government program, including Trails & Rails.

Second, there are some minor additions in the works for the Trails & Rails Display at APRHF’s Exhibition of Amtrak History in La Plata, MO. Some of the articles published in local newspapers about the program are being moved from inside the display case to frames located on the left side of the exhibit case. APRHF President and Trails & Rails La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox supports this move, explaining that the frames will help preserve the papers better, despite the Exhibition already having air conditioning and heat. This move was made on the morning of July 3, 2014 and can currently be seen by all visitors.

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Changes have taken place to the Trails & Rails Display at the APRHF Exhibition of Amtrak History

So what will take the place of the articles inside the Exhibition? Right now some temporary items are on display, but come August 1, 2014, a framed copy of a March 2007 article about Trails & Rails that was featured in Trains Magazine will be on display. Come on out and see it!!   A temporary display cabinet is also in the works that will feature rotating items, including some other Trails & Rails items. The hope is to have this completed later this summer, or at the very latest, by early fall.  Display items will be changed out every few months, which will hopefully encourage more repeat visitors to the Exhibition cars. Future displays will include a complete collection of Amtrak National Timetables, Amtrak Memorabilia Through the Decades, and Amtrak Uniforms. Chicago Trails & Rails Coordinator Robert Tabern will manage this rotating exhibition and has already donated the funds for this case to be constructed.

Over the past 18 months, the Trails & Rails program has become a key outreach element of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation… and we would like to thank you for your continued support. The ultimate goal, of course, is to bring more Chicago passengers out to La Plata to hear the interpretive program. Remember, Trails & Rails is presented in the upper level of the Sightseer Lounge Car at no additional costs to Amtrak passengers with a valid coach or sleeping car ticket. So, no excuse not to be part of the educational fun!

Questions or comments about the Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata can be directed to the Chicago Coordinator, Robert Tabern, at rtabern@yahoo.com. We are also developing a waiting list for new volunteers for the 2015 season. So, if you, or someone you know might be interested in applying… please send Robert Tabern that information no later than November 1, 2014.

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A 12-year-old passenger makes her own llama aboard the Southwest Chief after seeing two llama farms from the train; both llama farms can be seen between Galesburg, Illinois and Fort Madison, Iowa.