Supplement Feature - April 2014
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Get Connected

Create Greenway Trails to Get Your Community On the Move

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Steps to Get Started

If this kind of trail connectivity seems like a good fit for your community or region, consider the following suggestions carefully. Greenway projects offer wonderful benefits, but they definitely take planning and coordination to succeed.

1. Survey your area and identify possibilities and challenges.

RDG's Crawford suggested beginning with a "natural resource inventory" of your community. Do you have creeks and streams? Old railway lines? Utility corridors? Where are they located? Who owns this land? Are there undeveloped areas nearby that could be purchased and preserved for greenway use? What trails and recreation amenities already exist? How could they be connected?

After this initial assessment, Alta's Storck recommends a feasibility study, which involves generating public input, contacting adjacent property owners to gauge their interest, and looking at needed permits (which can take time to acquire), easements and a preliminary estimate of costs. Looking closely at the topography of the land is also useful, noted MESA's Cowan. Some landscapes will be less amenable to ADA-accessible trails than others, and others may require so much enhancement that the project becomes quite expensive. Will lighting and restrooms or water stations be placed along the trail? How will the trail's neighbors feel about this?

Greenway trails are intended to enhance and protect the environment, so check for protected wetlands and other habitats of endangered species that may be affected by your proposed project, suggested Hitchcock Design's Howard. Choose the trail's path and the methods you'll use to create it carefully "to minimize the disturbance in the more sensitive areas."

2. Get the community involved.

Although you'll talk to some members of the community in the earliest consideration phase, if your preliminary research yields positive results, it's time to take your plans public in a major way. Support from those in your town or region is always essential, but particularly for a greenway trail, which may wind its way through a variety of properties and jurisdictions. "Projects can be derailed if advocacy groups fail to engage property owners," Storck noted.

This is the time to take planning to the next level and build momentum with grassroots organizations like "friends of" groups, your local or regional planning department, and perhaps even corporate sponsors, Storck added. "It's about raising awareness and educating the community about the benefits and tradeoffs." If your trail may cross city or county lines, consider creating an independent nonprofit association to organize and manage the project, suggested Crawford.