Feature Article - October 2008
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Hit The Trails

Building Active & Vital Communities

By Dana Carman

East Coast Greenway

The East Coast Greenway is likened to the "urban Appalachian Trail," said Tanja Wiant, communications coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance. The goal is to connect cities and towns of the east coast with a continuous, traffic-free path. Currently, 20 percent of the goal is accomplished, though a complete route is mapped out. Wiant said the route is continually changing to accommodate off-road trail as it is built and also to shift the current route to be as safe as possible. At present, the route does include some road sections, but there are as few busy roads as possible. To date, about 10 people have completed the Greenway by bike, Wiant said. She also stressed that because parts of the trail do follow roads with traffic, the undertaking is not for a novice cyclist but for those comfortable pedaling. Currently there's another 20 percent of the route in development and detailed mapping information can be found on the Web site: www.greenway.org.

Making Cents of Trails

Partnerships in trail building, maintenance and restoration makes a lot of good sense (and cents), but as Cumming explained, trails themselves are an economic benefit and therefore should be an easier sell when budgets are being drafted (one can hope).

For this reason, more and more developers have gotten the message and are incorporating trails into the communities they're building. "We're looking at these becoming concrete indicators of a high quality of life," Levy said of trails. "And it's so clear in the mind of a person looking to move that they have registered with realtors and developers as real commodities."

Randy Martin, president of Trailscape, which promotes, designs and builds natural-surface trails for developers, determined based on an analysis of a survey of realtors and clients that there's a 3 percent increase in residual value if the community has a significant trail system over not having one. Additionally, in an amenity comparison, the cost difference between incorporating a trail or installing a golf course or swimming pool in a community is huge (not to mention trails are more favored). The cost of a natural trail per mile is about $40,000 whereas his estimates are $500,000 per hole on a golf course and $1 million for a swimming pool.

The key with a natural surface trail is designing it properly because an improperly designed trail loses its benefits quickly. Drainage is key, which is why trails professionals like Martin are also. With a properly designed and implemented trail, Martin said that developers can count on a higher likelihood that they can sell homes at an accelerated pace. More, trails are incentive for residents to stay put, which creates less supply.

In addition to touting the bottom line, Martin is an advocate of having outlets to connect adults and children to nature and interact with each other as the economics and the rewards go hand and hand—through the woods.