Feature Article - October 2008
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Hit The Trails

Building Active & Vital Communities

By Dana Carman


ith the price of gas forcing all of us to rethink our current modes of transportation, now is the perfect time to be advocating for trails and greenways. Beyond their use as a pathway for transport, they connect communities; integrate people, and especially kids, with nature; and encourage physical activity.

Of course, none of this comes as any surprise to recreation professionals, but in an age where digital options are attracting more attention than the outdoors and obesity is a national health crisis, it's important to reiterate the significance of trails and greenways.

Several national agencies have created programs to promote trail usage as well as resources to support smaller organizations' efforts in creating and maintaining trails. Developers of new housing have seen the dirt on the trail, so to speak, and are, with increasing frequency, incorporating trails into communities as they are recognized not only as an asset to residents, but as a financial one as well. There is among those most involved in the movement to advance trail development and usage a sense of urgency. While much progress has been made, there is still work to be done, especially in the current economic and environmental climate. Therein lies the mission—and a trail runs through it.

Trail Connections

"Trails are the connections that lead people on that first step to becoming stewards of the land," said Rick Potts, chief of the Conservation and Recreation Division of the National Park Service. "They provide that threshold opportunity to get outside and start to explore and start to learn. When you put in a trail, you start to bring stakeholders from different walks of life. You have the hikers, the bikers, equestrians, dog walkers, bird watchers. They may not interact normally in society, but when it comes to the love of trail, they'll come together. Partnerships are essential for our society. They provide us opportunities on many levels for a better and more healthy society."

Speaking of healthy, the obvious benefit of trails is improved health. "The nice thing about trails is everybody can use them," said Bill Bussey, superintendent for Chatham County Parks and Recreation in North Carolina. "We need to be more active as a society and [walking] is the easiest thing to do."

Seth Levy of the American Hiking Society pointed out that hiking is "one of the easiest, least expensive and most accessible anecdotes to a sedentary lifestyle." He also noted that "it's accessible to diverse populations, to different levels of mobility and to those with different socioeconomic backgrounds."

There are, as we know, numerous advantages to an active lifestyle, some more evident, such as weight management, and others less so, but nonetheless incredibly important, such as stress relief and improved sleep. Not to mention fresh air, vitamin D and a cure for nature deficit disorder. "We're looking at real, definite benefits of walking in a natural setting," Levy said.