Benefitting Communities One Trail at a Time

Community trails will help create many social, economic and health benefits for Georgians throughout the state. 

Socially, trails create a safe and enjoyable environment for those who reside near the trail and those who visit the area. They can provide a space for group meetings, walks, bike rides and other communal activities In some cases, state trails have impacted residents’ decisions to stay in the community or their decision to move to an area, as access to a trail has increased their quality of life [1]. With a safe space for gathering, residents can connect more with each other, which will enhance the community. 

Along with a thriving and healthy social community, a trail network across the state would improve the physical health of those most at risk and result in fewer accidents between pedestrians and motor vehicles, as there will be safe spaces for walking, running, hiking and cycling. For example, in West Virginia, 60 percent of trail users exercise more with the available trails, and 47 percent of trail users achieve their recommended physical activity [2].  Such trail use also leads to reduced medical costs and decreased pollution due to alternative transportation opportunities [3].

Economically, trails bring in various opportunities for revenue in the surrounding areas. With the introduction of trails, tourism increases, which also leads to an increase in money spent at local businesses. Events and scenic trails encourage overnight visitors, improve the chances of visitors returning, and may even result in tourists becoming residents [4]. With the Trail Caucus, many people will be involved in trail construction and maintenance, as well as retail and other supportive services; therefore, it will create an influx of jobs for people all throughout the state [5]. Trails also boost property value which increases the tax revenue a locale receives [6]. 

Many states have established their own trail caucuses in hopes to improve its communities. The state of Ohio was quite proactive when planning for their trails as it recorded a year-by-year tentative plan. Right now, it is in the State Agency Capacity Building stage of the plan where “state agencies must be equipped with the resources to develop important tools, facilitate trail-related activities and ensure safety and innovative transportation solutions.” While the agencies are evaluated, the assistance needed can be determined. The final part of the Ohio plan studies economic, health, transportation and recreational impacts [7].

The Trail Caucus works towards consistent funding for all aspects of this network of trails throughout the state. The Georgia Stewardship Program, Transportation Alternatives Program, and other recreational programs will assist with this funding. Through the Georgia Trail Summit, state leaders, city planners, and outdoor advocates are working to improve trails like the Firefly Trail in Georgia. 

The Firefly Trail is a 39-mile trail in the making from downtown Athens to Union Point, GA that turns the rail line into a walkable path. Parts have already been constructed, and the remaining miles are funded by the TSPLOST initiative, grants and private donors [8]. The Board of Directors hope “the Firefly Trail will be the first part of a network of trails serving the entire region [9].” With the construction of such cross-county trails as the Firefly Trail, communities across Georgia will improve the wellbeing of their businesses, parks, and residents while also preserving the state’s history.

written by: Kate Thompson