Member Portrait: Katie “Bike Advocate”

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REI Member since 2013

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Katie Harris and I live in Washington DC. I’m the Trails Coalition Coordinator at Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which we call WABA—I get to work with a great initiative called the Capital Trails Coalition, a collaboration of public and private organizations, agencies and citizen volunteer groups working to complete the regional trail network. When I’m not riding my bike, I’m also interested in kayaking, fly fishing and mountain biking.

Why is “outside” important?

Outside is important to me because it’s where we go when we need to get places, like transportation, but it’s also important when we need to experience places.

Our outdoor culture in DC extends to transportation—more people are choosing to bike to work every year and that’s where my organization, WABA and Capital Trails Coalition comes in. With that growing demand, we know people need safe and convenient places to walk and bike. It’s really important that we’re watching that trend of people choosing to commute by bike, and holding the region accountable for providing safe places to do that.

And for me, outside is so often where I learn about myself—whether it’s hiking or camping or even just riding my bike, it’s where I go to I learn to push myself, but also where I go when I need to slow down and get rejuvenated.

What does “outside” mean in an urban environment like DC?

DC is an incredibly active city. I think we get a lot of flak for being too buttoned up or too corporate, but, in fact, the outdoor community is really thriving. Rock Creek Park is our most famous urban park, but we also have some hidden gems like the Anacostia River and the National Arboretum and a slew of national parks. A lot of the green space in DC is federal land, so it’s managed by the National Parks Service.

Anacostia River Park

How did you get involved in the cycling community?

I’ve been riding bikes since I was a little kid. Riding a bike was one of the first lightbulb moments of empowerment for me because I could depend entirely on myself to get places. It’s such a feeling of freedom. I got bit by the bike touring bug when I was in college. I found myself riding across the country in 2013, and I’ve done shorter tours on the East Coast since then.

I started working in bike advocacy in high school. Our local bike and pedestrian planner in my hometown saw me picking up trash on the side of the path near my house and created a job for me as a pathway ambassador. I got to ride my bike and haul this cool trailer of tools and maps. I took care of the trail and talked to people and answered questions. I was the liaison between trail users and the local government, which I really loved. That was my first taste of advocacy work. Since then I’ve worked at the national and regional levels.

Why do you find multi-use trails vital?

Trails are really vital transportation arteries of this region. People use them for just about everything: commuting, recreating, walking their dogs, losing weight, bringing their kids to nature, experiencing the region’s national parks and the list goes on. The reason we’re spending tremendous energy and time on building out our regional trail networks is that trails connect us. They connect us to our places of work and worship, they connected us to our neighbors and friends, they give us places to spend time with our family.

In the work I’m doing, we’re envisioning an equitably-distributed network that’s accessible to people of all ages and all abilities. We want it to be a reliable transportation option. It’s important to us that it links diverse communities and is sustainable in the long term, transforming public life in the region.

Street in DC

What is your favorite piece of gear and what’s the story behind it?

My touring bike, my Surly Long Haul Trucker, is my favorite piece of gear. And it’s more like a piece of me. It’s been nearly everywhere with me. It’s helped me get up the mountain passes in the Cascades, it’s been my loyal companion on long stretches of highway through the Midwest and now it’s my steadfast commuter bike in DC.

What does being an REI Co-op member mean to you?

It means being part of a community that values the outdoors and values stewardship. The biggest thing it means is making the world, both broadly but also in our backyards, a better place.

Katie Harris cycling

Looking for more inspiration? Read other REI Member Portraits here.

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