After negotiating the myriad of issues from adjoining neighbors and tediously maneuvering through the govern- ment process, I have the privilege of riding my bike down each new trail and seeing the joy we have created on the faces of the people I meet. Every mile we build is worth the effort. I really do have a cool job.
That said, I have always been frustrated by the lack of data available to support the “facts” I have been presenting since I first started hawking trails back in 1991. Back then, I countered the fears of naysayers with information pulled straight from my backside. I wasn’t certain trails would raise property values, promote good health, reduce crime, spur economic activity, and generally improve the quality of life, but I suspected they would. There were no studies to support my point of view so I tried to persuade the uninformed and hope they outnumbered the not-in-my- backyard (NIMBY) crowd so a trail could be built.
Today there are scores of studies available that validate my enthusiasm and “facts” of 1990. There are even studies underway to document the impact some of our Atlanta area trails are having on the region. Healthcare of Georgia has studied the health benefits of the Arabia Mountain Trail on the community south of Lithonia. Police departments are now tracking criminal activity on trails vs. activity before the trails were built. The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission has sponsored a study to measure the economic impact of the Silver Comet Trail on Northwest Georgia. All these studies will help future trail developers respond to hard questions without having to fabricate facts like I used to do.
Purebred NIMBYS may not consider facts to be relevant anyway, but elected officials and permitting agencies are still making decisions based on insufficient data. There are a few additional studies I would I like to see completed to help future trail developers get the job done.
I wish a credible organization, without an agenda, would study the real effect a trail in the woods has on the water quality of the nearby streams. I suspect trail development is being evaluated based on the effects oily roads and litter strewn parking lots have on adjacent waterways. With the infiltration system we have devised for our trails and the cleanliness of their surfaces, I doubt that our ribbon of impervious surface through the forest has any impact on the streams nearby. A study would put the issue to rest.
I contend regular use of our trails contributes to less young adults getting in trouble, fewer divorces, a reduction in mental illness, a reduced dependency on medications, less smoking, better friendships with neighbors, less pedestrians and bicyclists getting injured, healthier dogs, folks more knowledgeable about nature, an increase in advocates for environmental causes, better employees, etc. etc. Anyone want to tackle a study to determine the true impact a trail can have on a community?
So you laughed about one or two of the contentions above, right? Fewer divorces? If there is a family activity that is free, encourages socializing, makes people feel better about themselves, and enhances their health and appearance, is it really a stretch to think a few couples on the brink of divorce could not be swayed by a frequent walk through the woods on a trail?
If we had a study to evaluate this 2013 “fact” list I pulled from my backside, maybe the next twenty-three years of building trails would be easier. I may hang around to find out!