Saturday, November 15, 2008

Talking About Trails

The National Trails Symposium opens in Little Rock today. Why Little Rock instead of Fayetteville, you ask? Little Rock was recognized recently by Prevention Magazine and the American Podiatric Medical Association as the best walking city in Arkansas. Cities were evaluated on 14 criteria, including the percentage of adults who walk to work, number of parks per square mile, use of mass transit, and percentage of adults who walk for fitness. This year, a Best Walking City was also named in each of the 50 states, from an evaluation of its 10 most populated cities. We must applaud and acknowledge Little Rock as the state's leader in trails and a great place to bicycle and walk.

Talking about trails has proven to be a good political strategy everywhere. The mayors of both Little Rock and North Little Rock live trails. Jim Dailey, former Mayor of Little Rock, said, "The artistry of our landscape, the health of our citizens, and the desire for innovative economic stimulus that harmonizes with the environment have given us a mandate for developing the Arkansas River Trail." Mayor Patrick Hays says, "The North Little Rock River Trail is one of the most scenic bicycle and walking trails in the country." He likes to brag on himself by claiming that he was the "father" of the trail, inventing and actually helping lay out sections of it during the periods when he was in town.

Alderman Kyle Cook deserves recognition for his leadership on the Fayetteville Sidewalks and Trails Advisory Committee that pushed for starting a trail system and for joining other members of the Fayetteville Street Committee in insisting that $2.1 million in trails funding be included in the 2006 infrastructure bond election where it received broad public support and was passed by local citizens. Trail innovator Terry Eastin of Fayetteville is also leading a campaign to establish a $2 million Arkansas Trails Grants program, and she has the backing and enthusiastic support of our local community leaders in that effort.

Many people are pointing out the connection between trails and health, and Little Rock's Medical Mile project, coordinated by Eastin, is a linear outdoor health museum. It is "lighting the way" for us to learn how to work with the medical community and bring hospitals and physicians across the country "on board" with trails, she said. Healthcare is a big business in Little Rock, which has helped provide major support for the trails system. We can only hope that the medical industry in Northwest Arkansas will someday make a contribution to funding our trail programs.

Today's Opening Keynote for the Symposium will be Dr. Richard Jackson, an internationally recognized environmental health expert and co-author of Urban Sprawl and Public Health, in which he suggests that the way we built cities and neighborhoods in the last 60 years is the source of many chronic diseases: “The modern America of obesity, inactivity, depression, and loss of community has not ‘happened’ to us. We legislated, subsidized, and planned it this way.” That sounds like a good argument against the folly of approving huge developments at the edge of the city and pouring in $28 million in public funds for infrastructure (more than 12 times the city's trail funding). It makes a strong case for sticking with our 2025 Plan instead of subsidizing sprawl.

October 2, 2008, marked the 40th anniversary of passage of the National Trails System Act. It was part of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, back when liberals were spending public funds on domestic infrastructure and social programs instead of the present Bush debacle of running up record deficits to fund foreign occupations while bailing out the banks and insurance companies. It opened the door to federal involvement in trails of all types, from city centers to remote backcountry. Virtually every trail in the country has benefited from the Act and many trail initiatives over the last 40 years can find their roots in it. There are now eight National Scenic Trails and 18 National Historic Trails, totaling over 48,000 miles. In addition, the Act authorized the designation of National Recreation Trails. There are currently 1,051 trails in the System, totaling over 19,000 miles.

We are glad that Fayetteville has completed 16 miles of multi-use trails in our city, and we look forward to someday seeing the eventual completion of the remaining 113 miles proposed in the 2002 Fayetteville Alternative Transportation and Trails Master Plan.

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