Written by Taco Ride
At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration last October, they honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. One individual they recognized was Mark Ackelson and his enormous contribution to preserving America's natural landscape in Iowa and beyond.
Mark Ackelson's life has focused on protecting and restoring important natural, wildlife, recreational and cultural resource lands in his native Iowa. He has worked for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) since 1980 and became president of this member-supported, statewide land trust in 1994.
The INHF has been instrumental in protecting more than 120,000 acres of Iowa's wild places, including the conversion of more than 650 miles of former railroad corridors for conservation and recreation purposes.
Ackelson's experience in Iowa soon led to a more national role in the promotion and development of rail-trails, and he has served as chairman of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's board of directors. Ackelson was also a founder of the Land Trust Alliance, a national association of land trusts, and served as chair for three years. His experience in leading multi-regional efforts led to the creation of the Mississippi River Trail, Inc., which is creating a trail the length of the Mississippi River, involving 10 states.
Ackelson helped secure Iowa's trails and recreation future by creating the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP), providing $15 to 20 million annually for conservation and recreation. He also helped establish the State Recreation Trail Fund and the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
The Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Iowa will be the beneficiary of the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in Ackelson's honor. Completed in 1997, this trail follows the former Iowa Southern Railroad, connecting eight communities and some of the state's most scenic countryside along its 63-mile route. The development of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail is credit to an extensive volunteer effort by members of the Southwest Iowa Nature Trail during more than two decades.
Photo of Mark Ackelson accepting his Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.