In looking at the reasons for the preparation of a Trails Vision in the Columbia Valley and the development of trails in general, the benefits and value of trails is of key importance. The following summarizes various benefits of trails from different important perspectives:
Health & Recreation Benefits
An interesting way to look at the added value economics of trail development is to consider the increased health benefits of trail users within the context of reduced health care costs. In A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Physical Activity Using Bike/Pedestrian Trails (Wang, G. et al., 2004), it was estimated that for each dollar spent on building, maintaining, and using trails, nearly three dollars were realized in reduced health care costs by the trail users due to improvements in their health.
Safety and Social Benefits
When trails are built to last with the user’s needs in mind, a venue is created to provide an acceptable level of safety for trail users. The use of industry standard trail design specifications is important, no matter the user. Trails that do not meet the needs of the users may lead to the creation of non-sanctioned trails with poor quality
features which can create major safety risks for trail users.
Trails provide increased opportunities for social interactions, facilitating better connection to other trail users, community space and nature. These opportunities foster social relationships and shared responsibility. According to Canada’s Go for Green, improved self-image and social relationships, reduced crime rates, and a lifestyle encouraging youth to find their entertainment in healthy, wholesome pursuits, are all found to be byproducts of local trail systems.
Trails can provide excellent opportunities for users to experience nature, history, and culture in an “outdoor” classroom. Interpretive signage, guided tours, or programming result in educational benefits when trail development includes the opportunities presented by the environment, historical context, and location of the trail. Identification of these opportunities is part of the trail planning process to ensure that routing and interpretive signage at points of interest, trailheads, rest areas, and other strategic locations can help tell a story to trail users and provide a deeper experience for those interested in learning more about the Columbia Valley and its surroundings.
Environmental Sustainability Benefits
Trails also provide an opportunity for people to interact and experience the environment in an immersive way. Paired with interpretive signage and other educational information, trail users become more aware of the value they place on protecting the wilderness areas around their communities. The existence and use of trails are both catalysts for this heightened sense of environmental awareness.
Current research looking at non-motorized trail usage suggests that, when properly built, trails can be constructed and maintained with minimal environmental impacts. Protection of the environment typically has more to do with the location, alignment, construction, and maintenance of the trail rather than the actual trail usage itself. Another by-product of a great trail network, according to IMBA, is that it should be so enthusiastically received by users that it will naturally reduce the amount of non-sanctioned trails. The above is not to say that all properly built trails will not have any environmental impacts. These impacts and mitigations need to be considered on a case by case basis.
The above applies not only to non-motorized use, but may be even more important for motorized trail use. ATV’s, dirt bikes and other motorized vehicles can cause significantly more damage to the environment than non-motorized activities. With the popularity of motorized trail activity in the Columbia Valley, the planning for, placement, and construction of appropriate trails is of utmost importance to keep riders on trails and limit nonsanctioned trail development.
Wellness tourism, recreational tourism, and other forms of tourism are popular and growing around the world. These trends show that sports and adventure tourism are often combined with wellness tourism and developing facilities to cater to these trends can have significant economic benefit.
Trail systems are a key attraction for visitors to a region. Visitors are drawn not only to the quality and array of trails available but also because of the experience they have in an area. According to research conducted by Tourism BC in 2009, 25 – 30% of all travelers from North America who participate in either hiking or biking chose their destination specifically for these types of recreation.
Engaging government bodies, and especially local governments are key in maximizing economic benefit; they should be made aware of trail development efforts and encouraged to market them along with other attraction and retention strategies for their communities.