Key Wellness Benefits of Trails
Trails and green ways provide natural, scenic areas that cause people to actually want to be outside and physically active. In this age of expensive indoor gyms and health clubs, trails and green ways offer cost-effective places to exercise. Like gyms and health clubs, they also serve as a place where people can see and interact with other people exercising. Researchers have found that a lack of this type of social support is often a barrier to participation in exercise.
The significant benefits of physical activity include helping to:
- Maintain an ideal body weight.
- Control high blood pressure.
- Reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and colon cancer.
- Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Reduce arthritis pain and disability.
- May prevent osteoporosis.
- In addition to the health benefits associated with physical activity, a more active population can yield potential economic benefits by reducing the cost of: medical care and sick leave, absenteeism in the workplace; health insurance claims and maintaining the independence of older adults, thereby reducing the cost of institutional care.
Key economic benefits of organised trails
- Trails increase the value of nearby properties.
- Trails boost spending at local businesses. Communities along trails, often called ‘trail towns’, benefit from the influx of visitors going to restaurants, snack shops and other retail establishments. On longer trails/larger trail networks, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and outdoor outfitters benefit.
- Trails create jobs.
- Trails make communities more attractive places to live. When considering where to move, home buyers rank walking and biking paths as important features of a new community.
- The George Trails network will make the City of George more attractive and can become its biggest sustainable tourism product.
- Trails influence business location and relocation decisions. Companies often choose to locate in communities that offer a high level of amenities to employees as a means of attracting and retaining top-level workers. Trails can make communities attractive to businesses looking to expand or relocate both because of the amenities they offer to employees and the opportunities they offer to cater to trail visitors.
- Trails reduce medical costs by encouraging exercise and other healthy outdoor activities.
- Trails revitalize depressed areas, creating a demand for space in what were once vacant buildings.
- Trails provide transportation options and cut fuel expenses and pollution.
- Trails provide low or no-cost recreation to families with low costs relative to other recreational options.
- Trails increase tax revenues in the communities in which they are located.
- These benefits represent a huge economic return on the money invested into trail projects. The costs of land acquisition for trails, trail construction and maintenance are far outweighed by the economic benefits generated by trails.
Key Environmental/Land Manager benefits of organised trails
- Trail systems protect regionally significant natural landscapes and/or significant or unique natural features. Through protection of resources and preservation of open space, trails define zones free of human habitation and development areas.
- Outdoor recreation has also proven to be one of the best sources of environmental education. Organized trails provide information to visitors/users about the importance and value of our natural environment. Through personal interactions with vegetation, geology and wildlife, users come to learn about and appreciate natural settings.
- Sustainability and responsible behaviors are important factors in realizing optimum environmental benefits while also accommodating recreation use. User awareness programs, communications, careful trail planning and design, and stewardship are key program elements that support trail environmental benefits and trail sustainability.
- The George Trails marketing mediums such as its website and social media will be important communication tools for land managers/owners. Through this they can make aware, educate, communicate change and do market research.
- Open cleared trails will help control fire risks and make access to areas easier.
- Professional signage, route markers and permits will have emergency numbers to aid assistance and evacuation.
- Permits systems will help control and manage trail use.
- Permits systems can provide an income to land managers.
- Trail systems can provide land managers with tourism and economic opportunities.
Key heritage benefits of organised trails
- Trails provide the visitor with first hand opportunities to understand, appreciate and enjoy key heritage sites in and area. Historical sites such as the Montagu Pass, Old Toll House and memorials in the Garden Route Botanical Gardens can be incorporate.
- Tourists are increasingly attracted to educational oriented experiences provided by cultural and historic sites.
- The history of human habitation along trails in the Garden Route stretches back hundreds of years. We have no doubt that a study of the George region’s history will reveal interesting information that can be incorporated in the trail network as part of its heritage tourism information and possible a heritage trail.
Key social benefits of organised trails
- The experience of walking, running and bicycling helps us connect people and places. Walkers move at slower speeds and have more time to perceive and comprehend the details of the environment and the community.
- Gathering places for trail users such as trail heads, trail cafes, club houses, restaurants or a trail office, creates a sense of community.
- Organized hikes, runs, cycling trips and events bring the community together.
- Important information is shared at these community gatherings.
Children and Nature
Trails provide important opportunities for children and their families to access, experience and learn about nature. Our failure to ensure that children have rich connections with nature has led to what Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and founder of the Children and Nature Network, terms Nature Deficit Disorder. Louv points out that a generation growing up with little or no experience in the natural world is exhibiting exploding rates of psychological and physical problems.
All too often, we prescribe new medications rather than fresh air. Yet nature can be even more powerful than pharmaceuticals in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), clinical depression, obesity and other near epidemic diseases. The challenge to act resides in all of us. We need to find creative and engaging ways to capture the interest of children and their parents in the magic of the natural world. We need to toss theseideas out to communities, where they can help them grow and flourish.