Feature Article - November 2019
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A Path Toward Conservation

The Environmental Benefits of Trails & Greenways

By Chris Gelbach


Making New Connections

In dense urban environments, there's often a balance to be realized between this impulse and the necessity to seize limited opportunities to create new trails and connections to existing networks. "It's more about being opportunistic about reutilizing all different kinds of rights of way in terms of rail-trails, power line corridors, stream corridors," Thorstensen said. "It's much more about how you can maximize connections in an ever-urbanizing world."

And in making those connections, it's also critical to make connections in terms of both public and private partnerships to support the ongoing maintenance and development of the trail—because it's not something that most parks departments can take on successfully alone.

"You're never going to have enough resources to do what you need to do in terms of keeping up with the demand for trails because that's going to just exponentially grow over time," Ciabotti said. "The more people use them, the more they're going to want more."

As massive trail networks continue to be built in urban areas—including examples such as the Circuit Trails in Philadelphia and BeltLine in Atlanta—these amenities will likely over time become more expected by younger workers.

And whether it's by creating newly restored natural areas out of brownfield sites or by connecting people to existing natural gems, these trails figure to play an important role in natural recreation and consciousness moving forward.

Even now, Ciabotti is seeing universal demand for environmental improvement in projects such as the current planning for the Joe Louis Greenway in Detroit, a proposed 31.5-mile trail looping around the city and including the Detroit Riverfront. Every community surveyed has made its priorities clear. "All across the board, these communities want this project to help them replant trees, to preserve green space, to give kids access to more green space and to help them make a connection to it that they currently don't have," Ciabotti said.

Through smart planning, design, implementation and maintenance, recreation managers can play a role in this effort. As communities seek connections with the environment, with other communities and with healthy recreational opportunities, trails provide one of the clearest paths to achieving those goals. RM