DEEP: Benefits of Trails and Greenways

Benefits of Trails and Greenways

Why Establish Trails and Greenways?

Trails and greenways positively impact individuals and improve communities by providing not only recreation and transportation opportunities, but also by influencing economic and community development. Some of the many trails and greenways benefits include: 

  • making communities better places to live by preserving and creating open spaces; 

  • encouraging physical fitness and healthy lifestyles; 

  • creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation and non-motorized transportation; 

  • strengthening local economies; 

  • protecting the environment; and 

  • preserving culturally and historically valuable areas.

Here is a summary Power Point presentation prepared by the Greenways Council President, Bruce Donald for a 2015 conference in Torrington.

Trails and Greenways Support Economic Development

Trails and greenways provide countless opportunities for economic renewal and growth. Increased property values and tourism and recreation-related spending on items such as bicycles, in-line skates and lodging are just a few of the ways trails and greenways positively impact community economies. 

  • CT Trail Census - The CT Greenways Council is proud to sponsor our state's first multi-use trail user study and volunteer data collection program.

  • A 2013 study provided by the Maryland Office of Tourism Development to the East Coast Greenway Alliance provides data on trail economics.

  • Economic Impacts of the Erie Canal Trail - this is a well-done report that shows compelling evidence that these projects rejuvenate small towns.
  • Assessing the Economic and Livability Value of Multi-Use Trails: A Case Study into the Tammany Trace Rail Trail in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
Promoting Healthy Living

Many people realize exercise is important for maintaining good health in all stages of life; however many do not regularly exercise. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that 60% of American adults are not regularly active and another 25% are not active at all.3 In communities across the country, people do not have access to trails, parks, or other recreation areas close to their homes. Trails and greenways provide a safe, inexpensive avenue for regular exercise for people living in rural, urban and suburban areas. 

Environmental Benefits

Greenways protect important habitat and provide corridors for people and wildlife.  They also help improve air and water quality. For example, communities with trails provide enjoyable and safe options for transportation, which reduces air pollution. By protecting land along rivers and streams, greenways prevent soil erosion and filter pollution caused by agricultural and road runoff. Greenways can serve as natural floodplains. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flooding causes over $1 billion in property damages every year. By restoring developed floodplains to their natural state, many riverside communities are preventing potential flood damage. 

Finally, trails and greenways are hands-on environmental classrooms. People of all ages can see for themselves the precious and intriguing natural world from which they often feel so far removed. 

Preserving our History and Culture

Trails and greenways 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, such as Native American trails and vast battlefields. Trails and greenways draw the public 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. Many canal paths, preserved for their historic importance as a transportation route before the advent of railroads, are now used by thousands of people each year for bicycling, running, hiking and strolling. Many historic structures along canal towpaths, such as taverns and locks, have been preserved.

Create Greenways and Trails; Build a Better Life

Open spaces have disappeared at an alarming rate to make room for new development. People spend far too much time in traffic, detracting from time that could be better spent with their families and friends.

Despite a weak economy, American voters have shown overwhelming support for conservation-related ballot measures in 2003.  Overall, 99 measures in 23 states have been approved by voters, creating $1.8 billion in new conservation-related funding.  This includes more than $1.3 billion specifically dedicated for land conservation.  The passage rate for these measures is 77 percent, an improvement upon the historical 70 percent passage rate from 1998 - 2002.

The approval rate was particularly high on November 4, 2003, when 64 of 77 state and local ballot measures were successful -- a success rate of 83 percent.

Trails and greenways provide what many Americans seek —  close to- home recreational areas, community meeting places, historic preservation, educational experiences, natural landscapes and beautification. Both trails and greenways help communities build pride by ensuring that their neighborhoods are good places to live, so that children can safely walk or bike to a park, school, or to a neighbor’s home. Trails and greenways help make communities more attractive and friendly places to live. 

1. The Impacts of Rail-Trails, A Study of Users and Nearby Property Owners from Three Trails, National Park Service, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, 1992.

2. Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails and Greenways Corridors, National Park Service, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, 4th edition, 1995.

3. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.

content updated March 6, 2017