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Editorial: Trail system helps improve health, community

Nov. 17, 2012 @ 11:02 PM

It is a simple idea with a big impact.

Investing in convenient walking and cycling trail systems can improve a community's health, quality of life and even its economy.

Over the past decade, hundreds of successful trail systems have been built or improved in cities large and small. Some grew out of established parks, such as the 20-mile Rock Creek Park Trail in Washington, D.C. Many have retooled old railroad track corridors in communities from Richmond, Cal., to Morgantown, W.Va.

Some combine a variety of park trails and new construction into a large urban trail system, and last week, Huntington took a couple of important steps in that direction.

About a mile of newly paved walking and cycling trail in St. Cloud Commons was dedicated, and Huntington City Council also approved a $2.3 million contract to build more than five miles of trails in three different sections -- one along the levee in Westmoreland, another in and around Guyandotte and the third connecting Harveytown Park with the western end of Ritter Park.

Those sections and connectors are all part of the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, or PATH, that will eventually pull together 64 miles of pathways and share-the-road routes for a trail system that will be accessible to almost every part of the city.

The trails are a tribute to Dr. Paul Ambrose, a Huntington native and public health leader who was killed in the 9/11 crash into the Pentagon, and the health benefits will be tremendous. In every state, there is a need for more regular exercise, but with some of the lowest activity levels in the nation, our area needs it more than most.

But after 100 years of focusing on motorized transportation, most of our cities and towns are not as pedestrian friendly as they need to be. Improving access to recreational trails and walkways helps residents get moving again.

Studies also show that trail systems help revitalize neighborhoods and increase property values, because an area's "walkability" is increasingly viewed as an added amenity. That improves perceptions about a community's overall quality of life, making it more attractive for economic development, potential newcomers and prospective college students.

Although the new construction for the PATH is just getting started, we hope residents can begin to see how the pieces will fit together and help provide the support that will make the entire system a reality.



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