Bullard Center Graduate Research Assistant and Friends of Columbia Tap Founder, Ed Pettitt, is making waves in the environmental and climate justice community with his advocacy for the Columbia Tap Rail Trail and the surrounding Third Ward community.
Recently attending the International Trails Summit in Reno, Pettitt was successful in gaining support from major organizations such as American Trails, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and even the Federal Highway Administration (Department of Transportation) Environmental Justice initiative. These organizations have expressed support for Friends of Columbia Tap's efforts to designate the Columbia Tap Trail as a Linear Park and an African American Heritage and Environmental Justice Interpretive Trail.
The Columbia Tap Trail, a historic 4-mile hike and bike trail that runs through Third Ward, Houston, was once part of a more than 50-mile rail line built by enslaved Black men to transport sugar and cotton from Brazoria County plantations to Houston's port. After Emancipation, it was used to transport Black convict lease laborers to those same plantations.
Today, the community struggles to gain funding and support to improve the trail, and there is no historical, wayfinding, or interpretive signage. Designating the Columbia Tap Trail as a Linear Park and African American Heritage and Environmental Justice Interpretive Trail is important for several reasons.
First, it would honor the history of the trail and the contributions of enslaved Black men in building it. Second, it would educate visitors and the community on the rich African American history of the area and provide a space for healing and reflection. Third, it would help address environmental injustice issues - such as redlining, transportation inequity, and creosote contamination - in the area by providing access to green spaces and recreational opportunities to a predominantly Black and low-income community that has been historically underserved.
Pettitt's efforts have also caught the attention of several media outlets, resulting in invitations for editorials, podcasts, and a documentary film project. Pettitt encourages everyone to read the recent Houston Chronicle article and listen to his All Real Radio interview with historian and activist Naomi Carrier.
Pettitt is continuing his mission by attending the Institute for Sustainable Communities Partnership for Resilient Communities Convening in Milwaukee. There, he will network with other Climate Justice and Justice40 projects across the country and visit the Beerline/Harambe Trail, which received an American Planning Association – Wisconsin Chapter 2020 Planning Excellence Award.
Friends of Columbia Tap is dedicated to tapping into a more connected, equitable, and prosperous community for all. Through Pettitt's advocacy and activism, the organization is making great strides in achieving this goal. Overall, this designation would help ensure that the history of the Columbia Tap Trail is not forgotten and that the community is given the resources and support it deserves.