Wyoming Bike Walk Trails Summit Report
Statewide gathering in Casper showcases benefits of biking, walking, and trails
The Wyoming Bike Walk Trails Summit held June 25-27 in Casper was a resounding success. Centered around the theme “Active Wyoming – People, Places and Prosperity”, the conference connected communities, agencies and people by bringing together biking, walking, health, and active living experts with state officials and supporters of pathways and trails.
Hosted by Wyoming Pathways and Platte River Trails Trust, the three day Summit kicked off with a luncheon and warm welcome from Casper City Manager, John Patterson, and avid trail user who also sees the economic importance of pathways and trails.
The Summit kicked into high gear with a rousing presentation by noted public health, planning, and transportation consultant, Mark Fenton, entitled Active Transportation for the Triple Bottom Line – Healthy Economy, Environment, and People. Mark’s high-energy presentation focused on the key principles of healthy community design, and proven policies and practices to get there, stressing the benefits and highlighting approaches that any community can adopt to get started. Mark’s presentation challenged attendees to concentrate on the “big picture” and move beyond short term “fixes”.
Fenton reported the astonishing fact that today, only 10% of Americans get the recommended 30 minutes a physical activity per day. He said solutions to this crisis will require ongoing and long-term solutions that “stick”, backed up with peer reviewed research and real world success stories.
Experts from around Wyoming explored the notion that “Active Living = Healthy Communities” in a lively panel discussion moderated by nationally recognized expert Bob Searns of the Greenway Collaborative. Presentations included tips on thoughtfully designing for active transportation, connecting kids and nature, designing age-friendly communities, and realizing the economic benefits of active living. These presentations provided additional “food for thought” to the attendees and were a perfect lead-in for the afternoon “PechaKucha” presentations (short slide shows) that were up next.
A dozen fast paced “PechaKucha” talks provided a quick tour of active living programs underway around Wyoming, starting with a presentation by Green River’s Brad Raney on the successful pathway and trail development in his city. Circling around Wyoming, talks included Colin Betzler with the Sheridan Community Land Trust on successful trails projects in Sheridan County, Angela Emery, showcasing the Platte River Trails system, Brian Schilling, Jackson Hole Community Pathways on the impressive pathway system, Andrew Nelson, City of Casper, Dick O’Hearn, Natrona County, on CMountain Trails Plan, Jeff Wiggins, Cheyenne Greenway, Michael Foote, City of Gillette, Sara Janes, WYDOT TAP programs, Linda Klinck, Wyoming Main Streets, and Paul Gritten on Wyoming State Parks Nonmotorized Trail Program.
Thursday evening featured Wyoming Representative Tim Stubson of Casper and keynote speaker Jillian Sutherland of the Sonoran Institute and Mobility West. Rep. Stubson shared a personal story on the importance of trails to him – he said it was on a run along the Platte River Trails that he proposed to his wife! Stubson was a co-sponsor of the successful safe passing bill that now requires drivers give cyclists a minimum of 3’ space when passing.
Sonoran Institute’s Jillian Summerland provide compelling statistics on the economic importance of active transportation to community economic success. She explained that a recent survey they conducted showed that jobs follow people, and the “overall quality of the community” was the most significant factor in the results, along with recreation access and proximity to trails and open space, and that expanding firms “care about being able to attract and retain talent.”
Day two of the Summit began with talks by a leadership panel consisting of Wyoming Senator Charles Scott, John Cox, Director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Dr. Wendy Braund, Senior Administrator and State Health Officer with the Wyoming Department of Health, Domenic Bravo, Administrator for State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails.
Senator Scott was the sponsor of Senate File 103, a visionary bicycle bill that narrowly failed by one single vote the last legislature. While disappointed, Scott defended the initiative, saying “We need to get started; make being active fun, a good experience, and accessible.” He told the audience he was inspired while traveling in Alaska and Wisconsin and observing their great pathway systems and the public benefits for residents and visitors. Senator Scott advised advocates talk to their legislators back home, and to attend the Travel Committee meeting in August where a legislative Interim Study will study bicycle travel and make recommendations.
The panel provided their views on the state of active living initiatives in Wyoming during a roundtable discussion facilitated by Mark Fenton.
WYDOT Director John Cox, a lifelong cyclist himself, said he was inspired by the projects documented in the community slideshows, many of which were supported by WYDOT funding grants. Cox called the bicycle the “great freedom machine”, and confirmed that Wyoming’s Highway System “can also accommodate bicycling and walking.”
Dr. Wendy Braund spoke of the important health connection to making biking and walking safe and accessible,, stating it is “more effective to create conditions that promote health”, and that the Health Department is “excited to be part of the conversation” on bicycling, walking and active living. “We need to create conditions where it is easy to be healthy”, she said. The importance was underlined with data on the serious health issues facing Wyoming, where today 65% of adults and 27% of children are overweight or obese, and 40% of residents have a chronic disease, conditions that increasing physical activity would help address. “Every state agency has a role,” she said.
Domenic Bravo, State Parks and Trails Administrator, provided succinct advice to Summit attendees, “Be bold and be brave.” He recommended people participate in their local planning process, and said his agency was embarking on a study to help gauge public support for trails and possible ways to fund improvements.
Building on the keynote talks, attendees helped draft an Action Plan for Walkable and Bikeable Communities with concrete action steps to advance the principles of healthy community design. Attendees developed specific policies, programs and infrastructure investments Wyoming can implement to support biking, walking and trails programs to support our people, places, and prosperity. Following the breakout sessions, representatives of each group presented their ideas to the other attendees and these ideas were collected by Mark Fenton and Jillian Sutherland for inclusion in a forthcoming Collaborative Action Plan.
Friday afternoon the focus shifted to recreational trails. Jason Bertolacci, IMBA’s Wyoming/Colorado Regional Director spoke on “Next Generation Trails” underway around the west. The presentation was an overview of mountain bike and hiking trail systems springing up in Wyoming and around the west and the associated economic and community benefits, with a focus on the best practices for Wyoming to consider.
The trail day was well attended, with approximately 20 volunteers led by crew leaders Paul Gritten, Todd Thibodeau, Bruce Burrows, and Jason Bertolacci. A new section of trail was designed and built that will be part of the course for the upcoming USA Cycling American Mountain Bike Challenge race to be held August 22nd on Casper Mountain.
With the completion of the trail workday, the 2015 Wyoming Bike Walk Trails Summit officially concluded. From nearly all perspectives, the Summit was a success, achieving its goal of bringing together people from around Wyoming to share information, develop proactive plans and find ways to implement those solutions.
Next steps planned are for Wyoming Pathways to help distribute the “Active Wyoming Action Plan” to attendees and the general public in the near future. We hope that this document will inspire those who read it to continue to work toward a healthier, more active Wyoming.
The 2015 Wyoming Bike Walk Trails was made possible with the support of the Wyoming Department of Health, WYDOT, State Parks, City of Casper, IMBA and AARP.