Economy, Environment and Health Benefit from Trails, Two New Studies Show

Posted January 10, 2020 at 5:49 am by

This just in from the Wash­ing­ton State Recre­ation & Con­ser­va­tion Office…

Exec­u­tive Summary

OLYMPIA–Trails con­tribute more than $8.2 bil­lion to the state’s econ­o­my, accord­ing to com­pan­ion stud­ies released today by the Wash­ing­ton State Recre­ation and Con­ser­va­tion Office.

Done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Wash­ing­ton Trails Asso­ci­a­tion, Wash­ing­ton Bikes, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, the stud­ies look at the eco­nom­ic, envi­ron­men­tal, social and health ben­e­fits of trails and rec­om­mend that state lead­ers devel­op more trails and use them as a way to improve the health of Washingtonians.

One study, Eco­nom­ic, Envi­ron­men­tal, & Social Ben­e­fits of Recre­ation­al Trails in Wash­ing­ton State, esti­mates that trail-based activ­i­ties improve health and reduce med­ical costs by more than $390 mil­lion a year for Wash­ing­ton res­i­dents. In addi­tion, trails sup­port 81,000 jobs annually.

“We know that trails pro­vide a lot of ben­e­fits. Peo­ple are health­i­er when they use trails, trails are good for local busi­ness­es and trails are bet­ter for the envi­ron­ment,” said Kaleen Cot­ting­ham, direc­tor of the state Recre­ation and Con­ser­va­tion Office. “It just makes sense that state and local lead­ers should invest in this valu­able com­mod­i­ty. Not only will peo­ple ben­e­fit, but so will the state overall.”

A com­pan­ion report, Health Ben­e­fits of Con­tact with Nature, looks at the health ben­e­fits asso­ci­at­ed with trails and oth­er out­door activ­i­ties. It notes an abun­dance of ben­e­fits from hik­ing, bik­ing and walk­ing such as improved heart and lung fit­ness, few­er car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk fac­tors, few­er deaths and less coro­nary heart dis­ease, can­cer risk and obe­si­ty. It also notes that out­door exer­cise, such as on trails, can improve mood, restore atten­tion and decrease anger, depres­sion and stress.

“This is crit­i­cal because Wash­ing­ton has more adults suf­fer­ing from depres­sion and men­tal ill­ness, and chil­dren report­ing more major depres­sive episodes each year than the nation­al aver­age,” Cot­ting­ham said. “Chil­dren espe­cial­ly can ben­e­fit from being out­doors because it is more con­ducive to social play, emo­tion­al devel­op­ment and improved think­ing than indoor activity.”

“These stud­ies show what hik­ers already know–getting out in nature is more than a hob­by,” said Jill Sim­mons, chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of Wash­ing­ton Trails Asso­ci­a­tion. “It is good for our minds and bod­ies. When you con­sid­er both the eco­nom­ic and health ben­e­fits, it is clear that we need to invest more in our trails and pub­lic lands.”

“Bikes mean busi­ness. We’ve known this for a long time, but the find­ings of this study now paint a detailed pic­ture of how com­mu­ni­ties across Wash­ing­ton State ben­e­fit from bik­ing,” said Richard Smith, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wash­ing­ton Bikes. “In addi­tion to boost­ing our state’s bot­tom line through indus­try, tourism and more, bik­ing brings major ben­e­fits for our men­tal and phys­i­cal health. By build­ing more con­nect­ed trails statewide, we’ll ensure that every Wash­ing­ton­ian has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ped­al into a health­i­er future–and Wash­ing­ton will con­tin­ue to prosper.”

Com­mis­sioned by the Leg­is­la­ture, the twin reports note that poor com­mu­ni­ties face more sig­nif­i­cant health chal­lenges and more bar­ri­ers to access­ing trails than more afflu­ent areas. The reports rec­om­mend using trails as a health inter­ven­tion strat­e­gy by improv­ing access and decreas­ing bar­ri­ers to trails for poor communities.

The reports also rec­om­mend improv­ing the state’s trail sys­tem by encour­ag­ing new trail devel­op­ment in strate­gic areas, such as where there are too few trails or over­crowd­ed trails, and by encour­ag­ing trail devel­op­ment that pro­motes overnight trips, which gen­er­ate more mon­ey because peo­ple are spend­ing mul­ti­ple days on trails. The reports also rec­om­mend improv­ing trail ameni­ties, such as park­ing and bath­rooms, to attract more users.

In addi­tion, the reports rec­om­mend con­duct­ing com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning for trails in antic­i­pa­tion of more peo­ple liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, improv­ing col­lec­tion of data on trail use and devel­op­ing a stan­dard per­mit­ting process statewide to make it eas­i­er to build trails.

“Peo­ple are get­ting out­side more than ever, but decades of under­in­vest­ment have put Washington’s trail sys­tem under sig­nif­i­cant strain,” Sim­mons said. “Wash­ing­ton Trails Asso­ci­a­tion is work­ing to ensure trails can meet the grow­ing demands of hik­ers today, tomor­row and for­ev­er. We believe these stud­ies are a good first step in rec­og­niz­ing the val­ue of trails and the need to invest in them at the lev­el they deserve.”

Cre­at­ed in 1964, the Recre­ation and Con­ser­va­tion Office pro­vides statewide lead­er­ship and fund­ing to pro­tect and improve the best of Washington’s nat­ur­al and out­door recre­ation resources.

Wash­ing­ton Trails Asso­ci­a­tion is a non­prof­it that mobi­lizes hik­ers and every­one who loves the out­doors, to explore, stew­ard and cham­pi­on pub­lic lands and trails.

Wash­ing­ton Bikes advo­cates for bicy­clists and a more bicy­cle-friend­ly Washington.

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

No comments yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0