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Trails are one important pathway to fully connect the dots between healthy people and healthy environments.

arrow From the Fall 2009 issue of American Trails Magazine

arrow Roger Bell is the author of several articles and editorials published by American Trails:

 

Connecting the Dots: Trails– the Green Way for America


Most of us know trails are essential links that highlight the value of building green infrastructure. Dr. Richard Jackson— formerly from CDC, UC Berkeley, and an advisor to California Governor Schwarzenegger on public health issues— told us with great effect about this at our last National Trails Symposium in Little Rock.

photo of kids on trail

Families enjoying community trails in Asheville, NC

(photo by Stuart Macdonald, March 2009)

He offered sound, passionate argument for building communities that encourage more out-of-doors, health-conscious living, while leveling biting criticism at so much we have done wrong in this regard— how we have made automobiles king, creating bedroom communities that discourage walking and real engagement with our neighbors, making waste, unnecessary consumption, and rampant pollution almost commonplace. He described and shared stunning statistical evidence of the exploding epidemics, especially of childhood diabetes and obesity, which are closely related to lack of exercise, junk food, shrinking open spaces and health/education policies that fail to curb, and even engender, such inactivity.

Dr. Richard Louv, our keynoter and author of Last Child in the Woods, took this further by noting how important it is to engage kids in environmental awareness and to provide educational policies that get them outside and hands-on with the natural world. “Nature deficit disorder” results when this is absent which erodes youthful psyches and bodies leading inevitably to an even sicker, couch potato society.

These inspiring speakers invited our active participation in a vitally needed social transformation and they encouraged us to view trails as intimately connected to the fight against global warming and to the promotion of preventative health behavior in our communities. They helped me to more fully connect the dots between healthy people and healthy environments— trails are one important pathway, if you will, to a deeper experience of this connection. We need to be more alert to this connection, and persuasively explicit about how to spread the message and elicit supportive behavior in keeping with that awareness.

I believe these issues are primarily moral and practical, not just political. We need to concertedly make the case that trails emphasize healthy community design, readily available recreational activity, green infrastructure, and getting kids outdoors. How could that be more “apple pie,” more obvious when set before policy makers, and less likely to elicit irrational opposition!

I was just honored to receive a special award (probably undeserved) for “Green Action” from the City of Redlands, California, where I live. Mayor Jon Harrison, who has initiated this effort to recognize businesses that do good things for the community in terms of “greening”, had the words below inscribed on the certificate:

"This Green Action Award is presented to Roger Bell for his outstanding efforts in constructing trails in the City of Redlands and his continual promotion of trail use by all residents for health and recreation with special emphasis on the development of the youth in our community."

“Conservation of natural lands is an important part of sustainability for communities,” said Mayor Harrison. “Areas of native vegetation are the most effective means of reducing runoff and flooding because they act like a sponge to absorb rainfall. The woody vegetation plays an important role in carbon sequestration.” In addition, trails provide access to these natural areas.

“Hiking and the close connection with nature are important elements in a healthy lifestyle” Mayor Harrison said. “With one-third of the children in San Bernardino County suffering from childhood obesity, trails provide an exciting option for their leisure hours to enjoy hiking and family outings.”

As Marianne Fowler from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and a member of our Executive Board responded when I shared this, the important thing was that Mayor Harrison truly demonstrates by these words that he “gets it,” and she added that in doing so he “made her day”!

So, fellow shapers of trail communities, get out there and make your case. As you can see in the adopted theme above, “Trails ~ The Green Way for America,” American Trails is working seriously to enhance the greening dimension of the next Symposium in Tennessee (November 14-17, 2010), and to find ways all of us might think and act creatively about this issue every day. We have formed a Board committee to explore and deepen this effort for American Trails as an organization and among potential policy leaders and trail enthusiasts of all stripes.

We invite your participation and your active assistance in this undertaking. Send us your ideas so these can become part of this widening conversation. We will attempt valiantly to put these to work, to share them more broadly in the trail world, and we most assuredly will honor and appreciate your input.

Please join us— tell us what needs to be done! I suspect some of this is preaching to the choir and that you have ideas and experience to help us set the course. Trails are the green way, our yellow brick (or native surface) route to an urgent and collective challenge. This is our time to connect the dots. As Thomas Friedman implores in Flat, Hot, and Crowded, this is our time to move beyond good intentions, parlor conversation, and mild mannered lip service toward urgent, passionate, and vitally necessary action. Put it this way: being a foot soldier in the green revolution may be, without exaggeration, our new job and it could not be more crucial to insuring our quality of life and ultimately even to our planetary survival.

In our green ways, we can truly make a difference!

You can send your ideas to Roger at: trailhead@americantrails.org.

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