Kansas is working to connect dozens of communities with trails

April 3, 2021 3:33 am

Bikers at Flint Hills Trail State Park. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Clark Coan cofounded Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy. A former environmental researcher, he lives in Lawrence near the Haskell Rail Trail.

An exciting venture is underway in the Sunflower State: the creation of an inter-connected trail system that will link dozens of communities, generate economic activity and entice Kansans to recreate for health and the enjoyment of the outdoors.

Old railroad lines are being repurposed as multiuse trails for walking and biking. Several organizations are working on building rail-trails in Kansas.

More than 27 rail-trails are either completed or partially completed, and 13 are undeveloped. In fact, 565 miles are completed and 273 miles are under development or planned. The goal is to link these together into a interconnected system. This will involve utilizing both out-of-service rail lines and building connecting paths within highway rights-of-way.

By midcentury, it is possible that trail users will be able to bicycle safely on trails all the way from Topeka to Wichita. Also, it may be possible to travel on trails from Kansas City, Missouri, west to Lindsborg in central Kansas.

Nationwide, easy access to linear parks and open space has become a new measure of community wealth — an important way to attract businesses and residents by guaranteeing both quality of life and economic health. Recreational trails reconnect us to our neighbors by creating common ground for social interaction. Trails reconnect us to nature by giving us access to green space for recreation and relaxation. Multipurpose paths provide access to open space close to home and multiply the value of parks and natural areas by linking them together.

Experience has shown that business owners tend to open additional stores in communities with a high quality of life that includes having access to recreational trails. This is because business managers want to live in communities with a high quality of life. Also, small towns have a difficult time attracting young professionals, and one of the first things they ask about when scouting out a community are outdoor recreation opportunities (especially recreational trails). Further, having a high quality of life also encourages young people to stay in a community.

Obesity in children is still far too prevalent. Overweight children tend to become overweight adults, continuing to put them at a greater risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and stroke. Recreational trails entice children to exercise because they encourage children to explore nature and have fun walking, running and bicycling. Exploring on a rail-trail becomes an adventure for children.

Having trails close to people’s homes greatly increases the opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to incorporate exercise into a healthy lifestyle. Research has shown that individuals are more likely to exercise if a walking trail is readily available. Responding to how communities can encourage regular physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that communities provide “safe, accessible, and attractive trails for walking and bicycling.”

Attractive rail-trails encourage people to recreate and explore the state’s rich historic and natural heritage. Kansans from all walks of life can bicycle, walk or run safely away from traffic on a smooth trail with a gentle grade. Along the way they can encounter wide-open skies, wildflowers and birds. Exploration of nature and the outdoors can bring them peace of mind and improve physical health.

Organizations involved in this project include Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy, Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, Central Kansas Conservancy, Prairie Travelers and the Kansas Dept. of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. To learn how to participate in this fun and exciting venture, go to their websites and Facebook pages.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clark Coan
Clark Coan

Clark Coan has worked for more than 33 years on developing rail-trails in Kansas. He co-founded Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy. A former environmental researcher, he lives in Lawrence near the Haskell Rail Trail.