Pedestrian Based Trails and their Benefits
We recognize and support trails throughout Ontario and appreciate that every trail is unique. Every trail can't be all things to all people but all trails can play beneficial roles. Trails play roles in the economy, play roles in the environment and perhaps most importantly, play roles in our health.
As defined in the new Ontario Trails Strategy, trails can be:
- Footpaths with natural surfacing
- Multi-use tracks with manufactured surfaces
- On-road bicycle routes
- Walkways, boardwalks and sidewalks
- Utility corridors or former rail lines
- Forestry and mining access roads designated as trails
- Waterways and portage routes
While Hike Ontario recognizes the diversity of trails and trail uses, our focus is on the representation and promotion of pedestrian based trails and their benefits.
Because of their linear design, trails act as a meeting place for communities. As a result, trails promote family unity as well as strengthen friendships and neighbor relations. They are places where entire families, friends and neighbors can gather and recreate together safely.
Neighborhood trails can improve pride in a community in other ways as well. A trail that runs through a community often leads to the residents and business owners showing their "best side" by cleaning or fixing up their property. A popular and well-managed trail can also serve as a focal point for a community for special events and a gathering place. These activities can lead to greater interaction between residents and improve the cohesion of a community. (Source: State of Indiana (2000). Indiana Trails 2000)
Trail projects help build partnerships among private companies, landowners neighboring municipalities, local government, and advocacy groups. Each trail contains elements of local character and regional influence, and reflects the hard work, enthusiasm, and commitment of individuals, organizations, elected officials, and agencies. All are able to take pride in having worked together to successfully complete a trail project. In addition, when residents are encouraged to become involved in a trail project, they feel more connected to the community. (Source: Warren, N. (1998). Nova Scotia Hiking Trails Study. Nova Trails Federation.)
Trails provide many potential economic benefits to the users and the communities they are found in. Trails attract tourism and tourism can be an economic benefit for any community. There are many spin-offs from trails in the economies of the surroundings. Restaurants, local businesses, tourist attractions, retail stores and accommodations can all reap the economic rewards of trails and the hikers and walkers on them.
Property values have been shown to increase in proximity to trails as communities recognize them as safe places to be active, healthy and community oriented.
There are economic benefits to trails amongst their pedestrian users as well. Generally, hiking and walking trails are affordable forms of recreation. Remember that purchasing memberships for your trails if offered is an excellent way to show your support and maintain the trails that you love to use.
Trails present a unique opportunity for education. People of all ages can learn more about nature, culture or history along trails. Of particular importance, trails provide firsthand experiences that educate users about the importance of the natural environment and respect for nature by leading us into a natural classroom.
Enhanced, active education along trails is achieved through the use of comprehensive trail guides and signage to encourage awareness of the natural, cultural, and historical attributes of the trail.
Hiking and walking trails have played and can play an important role in the environmental movement. They can act as active means of teaching people about the natural environments they often are found in. Hiking and walking trails can provide access to the natural wonders of Ontario, thereby instilling appreciation and respect in them from the people visiting. They can play a key role in securing lands for protection in perpetuity as illustrated by the success of the Bruce Trail in protecting green spaces along the Niagara Escarpment. Hiking and walking trails promote passive involvement in the environments around us and awareness of their importance in the lives of all Ontarians.
It is recognized that trails play an important role in the environment because they:
- Help to protect habitat for native plants and animals
- Raise environmental awareness
- Help mitigate pollution caused by fossil fuel consumption
- Reduce noise and light pollution
- Can be used as tools in research
- Can be used as environmental classrooms
Any birdwatcher, stargazer or snowshoe enthusiast knows the inherent pleasures walking. But walking is more than an enjoyable mode of transportation. It can also improve your fitness, health and mental well-being.
- Walking refreshes the mind, reduces fatigue and increases energy.
- More than half the body's muscles are designed for walking; it is a natural movement that is virtually injury-free.
- Walking provides an enjoyable time for sharing and socializing with friends or family.
- Regular, brisk walking can reduce elevated blood fats or blood pressure and improve digestion and elimination.
- Walking relieves stress and tension.
- Regular walking increases the number of calories you expend and helps you feel good about your body. When combined with healthy eating, walking will help you maintain a healthy weight and a positive body image.
- Brisk walking is an aerobic activity. It increases the body's demand for oxygen and trains your heart, lungs and muscles to work more efficiently.
The above is an excerpt from Walking: The Activity of a Lifetime, a pamphlet from The Leisure Information Network.
Trails have the power to connect us to our heritage by preserving historic places and by providing access to them. They can give people a sense of place and an understanding of the enormity of past events.
Trails and greenways draw the trail user to historic sites. Other trails preserve transportation corridors. Rail-trails along historic rail corridors provide a glance at the importance of this mode of transportation. As tools for conservation or preservation of historic and cultural resources, rail-trails provide a window into our history and culture by connecting people to the past.
The recreational value of trails are often their foremost attraction. In addition to the entertainment values of recreation, there is a significant health and fitness benefit as most recreation activities on trails involve exercise.
Trails support a range of recreational outdoor activities: walking, running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and newer pursuits like geocaching.
Trails also instill a commitment to responsible recreation in the outdoors that promotes a respect for nature and the green spaces on which we play.
Active transportation can enhance, protect and restore the natural environment, while the walker reaps various health and fitness benefits.
Active transportation can contribute to national and global commitments for pollution prevention and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change/global warming; In Canada, the number of cars per 1,000 persons has doubled since 1960. (Transport Canada, 1997)
Bicycling and walking can help to alleviate some of the negative effects of intense motorization, including traffic congestion, air pollution excessive noise, and destruction of the environment.