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America's trails and wellness: a new partnership opportunity

The relationship between health and trails is receiving a lot of attention. Board member Jan Hancock is heading up a task force for American Trails on the Surgeon General's Health and Trails Initiative.

By Jan Hancock

A broad national program entitled "Healthy People 2010" is gaining momentum in the trails community as opportunities begin to bloom for new partnerships and funding sources with national, state, and local health services organizations.

The focus of the new health initiatives is the emphasis on increasing the public's physical activity to help address the US Surgeon General's national concern about our public's sedentary lifestyles and the escalating problems associated with overweight and obesity. America's trails provide the ideal link between physical activity and improved national health.

Congress passed the long-awaited Labor, Health and Human Services bill as part of the "Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act" (HR 4577, H. Rept. 106-1033) in December 2000. The bill contains approximately $16 million for funding nutrition and physical activity initiatives at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for fiscal year 2001.

"Many health officials believe that modest exercise programs involving trails will encourage more people to walk and ride their way to better health."

American Trails will be working with many of our national partners, including the National Park Service, BLM, USDA Forest Service, trails organizations, and business sponsors to develop some significant trails programs and draft some possible Memoranda of Understanding and Intergovernmental Agreements with national health leaders, such as the National Association for Nutrition and Activity, to foster American Trails' partnerships to help facilitate the "Healthy People 2010" initiatives.

As new information, funding, and partnership opportunities become available, frequently check the American Trails website at to keep informed about all of the latest developments.

Healthier suburbs, where cars sit idle and people get moving

This excerpt from an article by Jane Brody highlights the need for better planning in concert with non-motorized transportation facilities like trails.

Study after study has shown that suburban residents walk less, bike less and are less physically fit than city dwellers. Their cars are parked adjacent to their homes and typically driven to within a few feet of their destinations. Their neighborhoods often lack sidewalks or other paths safe for pedestrians and bicycles. Entertainment facilities, workplaces and stores are so far from residences that a car often must be used. Even public transportation, where it exists, is usually too far from home for most people to reach on foot.

Now, however, public health officials and community planners throughout the country are rethinking our vehicle-friendly communities and seeking to design developments and retrofit established communities to encourage outdoors physical activity. Dr. William Dietz, director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said most communities designed since World War II are unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

"A quarter of all trips taken by Americans are under a mile, but 75 percent of those trips are done by car," he noted. "Only one-third of children who live less than a mile from school now walk to school. We need to help parents identify safe routes to school and encourage them to walk to school with their children."

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to retrofit some communities and make physical activity safe and accessible for more people. Dr. Dietz cited the example of Rhode Island's commitment to developing walking trails in its 32 cities and towns, as are communities throughout America. In rural southeastern Missouri, where there are few sidewalks or shopping malls or other places to walk, walking trails have been established, and 55 percent of the people who use them say they walk more as a result.

September 1999

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