New Attitudes Favor Trails, Open Space

Wyoming Trails Summit June 27-29
New Attitudes Favor Trails, Open Space

Thirty years ago, few communities or individuals placed much value on pathways and trails, ranking such amenities below the local municipal golf course.

Today, that perception has radically changed, and private developers and communities worldwide are embracing the infrastructure not as an amenity, but as a necessary part of daily life and economic vitality.

“They’ve gone from ‘why bother’ to ‘how fast can we get it done,’” said Jeff Olson, architect, planner and author of the book “The Third Mode.” He is a principal with Alta Planning and Design, with offices in California and New York.

The old attitude that money should be spent primarily on efficient roads and facilities for motor vehicles has evolved to one that is more inclusive. The new vision recognizes the economic and health benefits of pathways, greenways, trails and complete streets to individuals and communities.

“They’ve all come together now,” Olson said, noting a “convergence of issues not just locally but globally.” Issues like rising health care costs due to less active lifestyles, rising fuel costs and our expanding carbon footprint have raised awareness. Now, most communities have acknowledged that infrastructure to accommodate nonmotorized uses addresses many of those issues while delivering big benefits.

“This can be a must-have for communities to be competitive,” and attract quality, job-creating businesses, said Olson, who will be one of several expert speakers at the first annual Wyoming Trails Summit. The three-day event begins June 27 in Casper.

Trails designer and award-winning landscape architect Bob Searns will join Olson. The two will speak and participate in panel discussions during the summit, which has the theme “Making the Connection.”

Event organizers want to focus on the connections between health, trails, transportation and tourism, according to Angela Emery, Executive Director of Platte River Trails.

“This event will offer a great opportunity for community leaders, planners, engineers and users to come together and discuss the vital connection between trails and health, transportation and tourism,” Emery said.

Platte River Trails teamed with Wyoming Pathways to plan the conference, which will bring a diversity of participants together to interact and brainstorm.

“The Summit will provide a terrific networking and educational forum for trail and pathway supporters to connect with each other, meet with agency leaders and learn from top national experts,” said Tim Young, Executive Director of Wyoming Pathways.

In addition to Olson and Searns as expert speakers, several top Wyoming officials also will speak on Friday. They include Department of Health Director Tom Forslund, State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Millward Simpson and Department of Transportation Director John Cox.

Friday’s agenda will include a panel discussion with Searns, Olson and the state officials. The topics will cover nonmotorized active transportation and recreation. Organizers hope to encourage discussion on what the sate agencies are doing to promote active transportation and how they and the advocacy community can best collaborate. Young will moderate the panel discussion, which will include questions from the audience.

Also planned for Friday is a mid-morning panel on health. For lunch, Searns is scheduled to give a talk and speak with elected officials.

Afternoon panel discussions will cover topics ranging from pathways, complete streets and nonmotorized transportation to tourism and recreation.

(link to full agenda here)

Like Olson, Searns has seen a dramatic shift in perceptions and the approach to shaping communities.

“I think there’s been a sea change,” said Searns, whose lunch talk will focus on the “transformative values” of pathways, trails and complete streets for individuals and communities. He will lead an afternoon panel discussion on recreation and tourism.

Searns is a principal of The Greenway Team, a greenway and open space design and planning firm in Denver, Co. The firm has experienced a steady increase in business, especially in recent years.

“We’re seeing an upswing. It’s been exploding,” Searns said. The Greenway Team has projects nationally and internationally, including China, where interest in creating more livable communities has spiked.

“We see it all over the country and all over the world,” Searns said. In China, “they want to be top drawer” with nonmotorized infrastructure that will entice businesses to open offices or relocate.

Searns said he was pleased to see Wyoming moving in a progressive direction, which will boost tourism and other aspects of the state’s economy.

Since 2006, Wyoming has been aggressively building trails in Curt Gowdy and Glendo state parks in the eastern part of the state. Studies and surveys indicate a dramatic increase in park visitation. Main street businesses have reported more activity. Real estate values near the parks have risen as park trail systems are touted when homes are advertised for sale.

Larger, planned communities like Stapleton, Colorado, at the site of the old Stapleton airport near Denver, have experienced hot real estate sales, in large part because of the pathway networks, Searns said. In that community, most homes sell within five or six days of being placed on the market, he said.

Such communities typically will cluster development and leave open space for residents to experience nature, Searns noted. These planned features “form a community where people can connect with the landscape,” Searns said.

Stapleton has more than 700 acres of parks and trails. Today, more than ever, people want places to walk, hike and bike. No longer is walking viewed as the “poor man’s” way to travel, but a respected, healthy activity, Searns said.

During the summit, Olson will discuss how attitudes have changed during the last several decades. As attitudes change, challenges emerge. Olson plans to discuss how different communities responding to new attitudes can overcome the many challenges to ultimately improve their communities.