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Measure city trail usage to gauge public support

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Trails are an increasingly popular and valuable community asset. They encourage physical fitness, give residents an alternative route to reach city sites and generally improve neighborliness.

In addition, real estate agents have discovered that proximity to a trail improves the attractiveness of a property and even can boost the selling price. It is not uncommon to see ads for properties on Indianapolis’ northside described as “near the Monon Trail.”

So building, maintaining and expanding trail networks can have a positive impact on many aspects of a community. But exactly how much of an impact is not known for certain.

Leaders of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department would like a solid answer. They soon will begin an official count of users of the city’s People Trails. The investigation will include what residents use the trails for, what time of day they use them, where they enter and exit and even the impact of their trail-related exercise on their health.

The first stage will involve using monitoring devices to establish how many people use various segments of that city’s trail system. The survey won’t be able to determine how many different people use it or where they come from, but it will establish a base line about use.

The next stage will involve interviews of users to find out how often they use the trails and for what purpose.

Columbus parks leaders say accurate numbers recorded over several months will better help the parks department garner support for the 21 miles of blacktopped trails for walkers, runners, cyclists and others.

The department will work with Indiana University faculty on the count and study that could stretch about a year. IU representatives say past studies they have completed have had a tremendous impact.

In fact, Stephen A. Wolter, executive director of IU’s Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands, said the Indiana Trails Study he helped coordinate grew to “national significance.” He said the 2000 report showing the positive impact of trails opened the state to more trails.

And now Indiana is among the nation’s leaders in percentage of trail growth since 2000, according to Wolter.

Franklin and Greenwood both have growing community trail networks. A solid handle on how many people use those trails would give officials in each city solid data to engender even greater support.

That information also could be used in grant applications to demonstrate that the funds being sought would be going to communities that solidly support urban pathways.

Both Johnson County cities can be proud of their trails. They truly are an asset that add greatly to the communities.

Knowing how many people use the trails and how they use them would give officials firm evidence of just how valuable they are.

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