While trails have been used for transportation and enjoyment for centuries, they have recently become even more popular as people focus on healthy outdoor lifestyles, alternative means of commuting, and recreational experiences that can be enjoyed alone, with a friend, or in a group. Trails serve an incredibly diverse and broad group of people, whether they are rollerblading on a paved rail trail, biking single track in a nearby state park, walking their dogs out the back door, or cross country skiing on a world-class Olympic venue.
Overall Preference for Trails
According to multiple studies conducted by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Homebuilders, trails have been ranked as either the first or second most important community amenity when potential buyers consider their purchase. This preference is particularly notable for home buyers 55 years and older, as indicated below:
Source: Wylde, M. (2002), Boomers on the Horizon: Housing Preferences of the 55+ Market, Survey of 890 households headed by members age 55+.
Health and Lifestyle Benefits of Trails
The United States now faces an obesity epidemic that has, for the first time, helped lead to a decline in life expectancy for the average American (Olshansky et al., 2005). One-third of the kids born in 2000 are expected to develop Type II diabetes in their lifetimes; the disease once dubbed "adult diabetes" is now afflicting children in their teenage years (Narayan et al., 2003). Only 7% of trips in urban areas (and far less in rural areas) are made by walking or bicycling in the US versus 34% in Germany and 46% in Holland (Pucher and Dijkstra, 2003). In 1974, 66% of American children walked or bicycled to school; in 2000, this figure had dropped to just 13% (CDC, 2000). Communities investing in well-designed trail systems can help reverse these trends.
At the other end of the age spectrum, there are now 80 million baby boomers who have just started receiving their first social security checks. The arrival of this so-called "silver tsunami" has brought demand for activities that can be undertaken on a daily basis such as biking, walking, skiing, and running. Like alpine ski areas with "ski-in/ski-out" condo access, people are desiring "walk-in/walk-out" or "bike-in/bike-out" capabilities as trails become an integral part of daily lives and people seek ways to spend less time in their cars.
Property Values and Trails
There are now scores of studies that have documented the true financial impacts of trail systems on real property values, a few of which are highlighted below:
One of the most robust studies on this topic, in our view, was conducted by Resource Dimensions for the Methow Valley Sports Trail Association (www.mvsta.com), which found a clear relationship between residential lot sales and proximity to the region’s premier four-season trail system:
Community Impacts of Trails
There is a perception in the trail community that "if you build it, they will come." In certain instances, this is indeed true, particularly where there is both pent-up demand for a trail system and trails that are well-planned and designed to meet these new users.
More often, though, a successful trail system requires support by its users and the broader community. Organizing small to large events, walking and fitness clubs, elementary and high school programs, or walk- or ski-a-thons brings participants and volunteers together and encourages them to take pride in the trail system and their community. From very rural areas to large cities, trails have become catalysts to bring citizens, businesses, and local organizations together.