Published by the Ministry of Health Promotion Province of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
The Ontario Trails Strategy is a long-term plan that establishes strategic directions for planning, managing, promoting and using trails in Ontario.October 07, 2005
Trails support an active lifestyle that improves health. Physical activity helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, colon cancer and depression. An increase in physical activity can save millions in health care spending. Physical activity also reduces stress and improves mental health.
Trails are exceptionally well suited to helping Ontarians become more physically active. Many are designed for the recreational activities Ontarians most enjoy, including walking, cycling and jogging. They are readily accessible to most Ontarians and inexpensive to use. They are found in a variety of attractive settings and can provide moderate activity or challenging outdoor adventure. They can provide physical activity for the widest range of people, including persons with disabilities, children and youth, the elderly and others who are known to be less physically active.
Trails attract tourists to Ontario communities. Tourism creates jobs and puts money into local economies. Many trail users buy goods such as snowmobiles, mountain bicycles, equestrian equipment and hiking boots. Canadians are taking shorter vacations, closer to home. Vacation dollars are being spent on local restaurants, accommodations, retail purchases and day trips. The Ontario Trails Council estimates that trails contribute at least $2 billion a year to the provincial economy.
Trails increase property values. A home near a trail can offer a pleasing view, quieter streets, recreational opportunities and a chance to get in touch with nature. Studies find that properties located near trails generally sell for five to thirty two percent more than those farther away
Trails strengthen the social fabric. Volunteering is one measure of the vitality of a society. People working together, giving their time freely, and sharing in socially valuable, meaningful activities— these are practices that create strong communities.
Ontario's trail system was largely built by volunteers, such as the members of trail clubs and other not-for-profit organizations. Trails continue to provide abundant opportunities for volunteering in the community.
Ontario's trail system also depends on the generosity of private property owners. Many trails cross private lands, with access freely given by property owners who are willing to share their property with trail users. Some property owners have even donated their land to trail organizations.
Trail construction and maintenance builds and solidifies partnerships among community groups, businesses, property owners, local government, community residents and trail club members. The province as a whole is also strengthened as people of all income brackets, all age groups and all cultures travel throughout Ontario for trail-based recreational experiences.
Trails lead users through the incredibly varied landscapes to be found in Ontario. They lead people to diverse plant and animal habitats like wetlands and forests, and historic places like old mills, canal locks or the homes of famous Canadians. Trail guides and interpretive signage can identify the special features along a trail and enhance our appreciation of our natural and cultural heritage.
Trails often cross lands which are environmentally sensitive in many ways. By leading users along well-worn paths, trails keep users away from more sensitive features that might not be able to withstand traffic. Well-developed trails provide environmental buffers, such as boardwalks and bridges, that protect delicate wetlands while allowing users to experience varied plant and animal wildlife.
Trails in Northern Ontario often give users access to remote wilderness areas. Indeed, the chance to experience wilderness is one major appeal of remote tourism in the north. Consequently, the need to preserve wilderness is well understood by northern trail stakeholders.
Trails provide meaningful and satisfying outdoor experiences for many users. These experiences reaffirm a sense of connection with the natural environment and provide opportunities for an appreciation of Ontario's natural heritage.
With a trails system that traverses many of Ontario's natural regions, trails play an important role in supporting environmental education and building a public commitment to environmental conservation.
Fostering better health and a prosperous economy through trails
With effective public education, trails will make a real contribution to the health and economic prosperity of Ontarians.
Trails provide accessible, widely available and low-cost opportunities to meet the physical activity needs of most Ontarians. For this reason, the Ontario Trails Strategy is linked to the ACTIVE 2010 initiative, and its target of raising the percentage of Ontarians who engage in physical activity to 55 per cent by 2010.
Trails-based tourism can provide economic benefits to many Ontario communities. It has proven particularly beneficial to smaller, rural, northern and remote communities, especially during winter months. The "outdoors" is recognized as a key defining feature for Ontario in the domestic market and defining images of Ontario for out-of-province markets. Ontario trails can attract both Ontarians and out-of-province visitors. Short trails tourism excursions with brief overnight stays are compatible with a trend toward taking shorter, more frequent vacations over the four seasons.
Building stronger trails tourism will require the identification and promotion of specific trails tourism opportunities around the province. Furthermore, the trails community would benefit from expanding its partnerships with the tourism industry at all levels— locally, regionally and province-wide.
Industry, for its part, will need to understand the particular needs of the trails community to preserve and maintain trails properly and to use trails appropriately.