Warm weather, sunshine and the smell of fresh outside air. It all means one thing. It’s time to go outside!
You can walk to a local trail and wait for your first deep breath at the top of your favorite vantage point. Trails offer many advantages.
- They increase the quality of life of the residents, among other things through health and social services.
- They create an opportunity to bring new people (tourism) into your community because the trails are something they don’t have where they live.
- They create economic value because of the unique experience they offer to visitors and residents alike.
But what if your community lacks hiking trails or hiking trails that match your recreational interests?
UW-La Crosse faculty and students from the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) and Recreation Management program often conduct trail research to assess the need and value of recreational trails.
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As part of TRI, in the spring of 2019, students at a recreational facility planning class proposed a sustainable fat-tire bike path with multi-use opportunities for the community of Spring Grove, Minnesota. Under the direction of Dr. Laurie Harmon met students with community members to gather information so they could create suggested routes that meet the interests and needs of the community.
The community engagement provided students with a valuable hands-on learning experience, while the community received four proposed hikes designed based on projected recovery trends, an inventory of what the area has to offer, and community input.
TRI is involved in a similar project with the community of Rushford, Minnesota. In a previous survey conducted by the city, the community identified hiking trails as the top amenity they would like to see brought to the area. These findings led the city to partner with TRI to find out why the community wants trails, to learn more about how they plan to use trails, and where they would like to see more trails.
Under the direction of TRI Director Dr. Dan Plunkett, students in a recreational citizenship course are currently meeting with members of the community to gather this information so that the students can re-propose trails that meet community needs in the fall facility planning course.
We know that access to outdoor recreation is important in every community, but what that means depends on the community. In the examples discussed here, research like this helps communities envision what trails look like to them.
What do we want? What do we not want? With this information and developing proposals that align with a community’s vision, planners can move forward with building something that works. A plan may not work in every community, but communities can find a plan that works for them.
So as you head outside this spring, be thankful for the recreational opportunities you have. You probably have a lot of people and planning involved. Hopefully you could be involved in the development of future recreational opportunities.
Now is a good time to remind people to use trails responsibly. Whether it’s a spring thaw or the days after heavy rain, trails need time to dry.
The ORA Trails website is a great resource before you go out. (www.oratrails.org). Also, use cues in your area to determine what trail conditions might be like. Standing water on roads, yards or sidewalks can be an indication that the trails are not dry enough to be used. Or visit a paved or gravel trail that isn’t as affected by saturated conditions.
Dan Plunkett, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the UW-La Crosse Recreation Management program and Director of the UW-La Crosse Tourism Research Institute.
Learn more about UWL Recreation Management at www.uwlax.edu/academics/recreation-management/
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