Feature Article - October 2008
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Hit The Trails

Building Active & Vital Communities

By Dana Carman

A Soft Surface

While most trails rely on natural surfaces, like wood chips, gravel or simply dirt, some high-traffic areas may want to look into new options made from recycled tire rubber. One manufacturer boasts their recycled-rubber trail surface is virtually maintenance-free and easier on the knees of exercisers than some alternatives. Similar to a track surface, it is available in 20 different shades and allows the free flow of water. It's slip-resistant, and while more costly than asphalt or concrete, it will hold up for more than a decade. Also, it can earn LEED credits from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Partners in Trails

As Potts explained, partnerships are vital for society. That's also true of trails. One example is the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) Program of the National Park Service, which works with many types of partners—nonprofits, community groups, tribal governments, government agencies on all levels—to provide tailored assistance on a wide variety of conservation and recreation projects. The program does not provide grants but acts as a catalyst to assist a partner in collecting the necessary pieces to meet their conservation goal.

"The RTCA is primarily a technical assistance provider," Potts said. "Everything we do is by invitation. We are very respectful that these are all local projects. This is us being invited to a community by interested stakeholders."

The projects run the gamut, Potts said, but added that many of them serve multiple conservation efforts and purposes. For example, the removal of the Milltown Dam in Missoula, Mont., as well as the contaminated sediment behind it, will allow the free-flowing confluence of the Clark Fork and Bigfoot rivers for the first time in 100 years, will eliminate water pollution, end fish kills, rid the area of an unsafe dam and improve the local economy. Digging down a little deeper into just one area of benefit, the bull trout, which travels upstream to spawn was being blocked by the dam. According to Potts, within weeks of breaching the dam in March, the bull trout were able to return to their migratory patterns. It both cleaned up a polluted area and restored a natural habitat, which reverberates through both the ecological and economic chains.

Another project serving dual goals is the Medical Mile in Little Rock, Ark., which was completed with the unanimous support of two dozen physicians with Arkansas' largest cardiology clinic who raised $350,000 over two years.

"It's a wonderful example of the healthcare community becoming involved," Potts said. The Medical Mile is one part of the Arkansas River Trail but is hailed in the trails community as a sign of the tangible commitment these physicians have toward promoting better health through fitness.

"They realize by the time a patient comes under the scalpel, they have failed, we all have failed," Potts said. "They're attacking the problem from the root cause."

Due to budget constraints, Potts said there are about 80 conservation projects in the works, but in any given year the RTCA partners on 200 to 300 such endeavors. "For every dollar we invest, we get $8 to $10 of return," he said. "I might be a little biased, but when I look at this program, I feel really good about it as far as the money's worth."