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Healthy Places, Healthy People

Dear Friend of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy,

I recently spoke at a workshop sponsored by the National Governors Association. My assignment was to describe how trails contribute to healthy communities, and to suggest how state officials in attendance could expand their role in trail development.

I was prepared to describe, in detail, how trails contribute to healthier places by improving the economic and environmental health of our communities. I intended to segue into a discussion of how trails contribute to healthier people by providing safe and pleasant places for family recreation. I planned to close my remarks by urging the state officials to promote trail development as a strategy for attacking the growing obesity epidemic.

But before I had a chance to speak, my co-panelist detailed how her state agency was encouraging trail development. With the assistance of slides, she described how her department provided funding that was vital to four new trail projects in her state.

The content of her presentation was not unique; I have seen representatives of state departments of transportation or natural resources proudly highlight similar investments in trail projects. But here's the kicker: She was speaking on behalf of her state department of health.

When it was my time to speak, I stuck to my prepared remarks. But I'm sure my excitement showed. I concluded my remarks by emphasizing that the previous presentation was a milestone on the path to healthier communities.

I noted that for several years we have talked about how trails can combat the obesity epidemic by encouraging active lifestyles. But this was evidence that such talk is resulting in action. This was concrete proof from public health professionals that investing in trails today is a form of preventative medicine that can reduce future health-care costs associated with obesity.

Looking ahead, this episode is just one more indication that the future of the movement is bright and getting brighter!

Keith Laughlin

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037