Why are Trails so Important?

Why Are Trails Important?
As a member of the Hill Country Conservancy family, you, like many of us, may occasionally find yourself on the Violet Crown Trail. Surveys in the Austin area show that trails are the most desired recreational activity. Why the popularity?
You can use a trail at a time that works in your schedule. You don’t have to have specialized equipment or training, just sturdy shoes. Cost is not a huge factor. You can enjoy a trail alone or with a companion. Your dog probably demands a walk. Walking on a trail is exercise. It is a time for contemplation, either for mindfulness or mindlessness (we need more of that). Age or condition is not a big factor. The reasons go on…
Austin is not alone in trail popularity. The growth of trails is almost universal. The American Trails organization has been holding a national conference every two years since 1985; it attracts attendees from around the world and has now become the International Trails Symposium. This conference is where I learned that New Zealand has a 2,000-mile-long trail system. Why so extensive? Because tourism is a major economic factor in their economy and trails are a top destination.
Trails add to local economies as well. Trails bring tourists and trail use supports ancillary businesses like bike shops, running stores, outdoor equipment stores, and more. Trails also increase the value of homes nearby. Recreation is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise in Texas.
Trails are also used for transportation. They offer connectivity to neighborhoods, schools, offices, libraries, and shopping centers. This helps lower vehicular use, increases safety, and improves the environment.
Beyond these practical uses, I believe there is a deeper reason for using trails. We, as human animals, are a part of nature. Several generations ago, most of society was rural and agricultural. Today our lives keep us indoors under artificial light for long periods of time. We crave nature. I like to think of the term “recreation” in a different way, more like “re-creation”. A way to reset our life buttons. Studies have shown that spending two hours a week in nature improves our mental and emotional condition. There is a term for spending time outdoors called “Forest Bathing” (which does not mean nudists in the woods). I like the term “nature immersion” better. We need it. Trails provide a conduit to nature. They provide an opportunity to increase our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Now, due to the pandemic, trails may be closed. What can we do to get our nature immersion fix? Take a walk in your neighborhood. Many city streets are practically empty, so this could be a great time to explore your town on foot, maintaining appropriate physical distancing. At home, many people are gardening and landscaping. If you live in an apartment, grow flowers and vegetables on your patio, balcony or in a window box. Take up bird watching. As a last resort, watch the nature channel or Hill Country Conservancy’s virtual trail walks.
When life resumes some degree of normalcy, please support your local trails. Volunteer, contribute to nonprofits that support trails, vote for bonds that include trails.
Why are trails important? Because we need them.

About the Author
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Butch Smith

Comments 2

  1. Thanks for bringing more and deeper connections via the stories of staff (and supporters?}. This is a great idea.

  2. I live in Blanco county and my wife and I own 11 acres outside of town. For the past 15 years I’ve been working part-time on creating nature trails on our property. Now that I’ve finished I’ve added a few picnic tables and viewing areas on top of the hill as well as in the heavily wooded area in the valley. Just sitting there alone brings so much peace to my mind and soul. Trails are a lifeline to our lifetime.

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