Community trails as an economic driver

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Rognstad

I’m in Boulder, Colorado, this week at a conference to learn about the economic impact trails and multimodal connectivity can have on a community.

I remember when I moved to Sandpoint in 1999. North Idaho Bikeways was completing the community trail to Sagle. A few years later they would complete the Sandpoint-Dover Community trail. Around that time the Syringa trail system was born (by the new Pend Oreille Pedalers) and then followed the Mickinnick Trail (by Friends of the Mickinnick Trail). Several years later the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail began (by its Friends), the Dover Bay Trail, then the Creekside Trail. Now the Watershed Crest Trail is the craze (another POP achievement). Along the way many other significant developments occurred like new trails at Mineral Point and recently the Pine Street Woods project. Meanwhile, Selkirk Recreation District and Schweitzer Mountain Resort continue to invest in trails up the mountain. In 2016, the US. .Bike Route 10 was established right through the center of town putting us officially on the U.S. bike map. For 20 years Sandpoint and the region has been establishing itself as trails community, offering easy access, mobility and enhanced recreation for all kinds of users.

Most recently, Bonner County partnered with Idaho Department of Lands to develop Hayes Gulch, a trail head with parking serving the west side of Gold Hill. This was listed as a first priority in the 2016 Bonner County Trails Plan. The plan was developed by the Trail Mix Committee, a multijurisdictional advisory group that focuses on trails and connectivity throughout the region. The group is a who’s who of any and every organization that has an interest in trails in Bonner County. It created the plan to identify and prioritize opportunities for trails throughout the region.

More trails and better connectivity is great for our residents and visitors because trails improve equitable access, public health and quality of life. Headwaters Economics Institute, a Montana-based think tank, has developed and curated an increasing body of research that demonstrates trail systems also increase economic vitality and property values in communities that invest in them. This is obvious for businesses that cater to trail user needs like Schweitzer restaurants, grocery stores, camping and gear shops, guide services and hotels. It also is shown to spill over to other sectors. Perhaps most significantly, to the extent Sandpoint can establish a reputation as a trail destination, revenues are not only measured in increased business revenue but in increased employment and employee earnings, which means increased local and state tax revenue. Trails are an integral part of a community’s quality of life. This, I argue, is our greatest asset and most significant economic driver not because of tourist dollars, though they are significant, but because a high quality of life is what attracts quality employers and the workforce they need to sustain economic health and prosperity. Perhaps more than all that, trails are fun! They are community gathering spaces and provide a connection to the natural world.

We are fortunate to have so much wilderness around us and so many opportunities for trails. We are also fortunate to have a lot of groups and individuals locally that recognize the value of trails and are dedicated to improving our local trail network. Communities across North America are likewise investing in trails and realizing the same benefits. A dozen of which are represented at this conference in Boulder. We are learning from each other how to best maximize our resources, tool up and deliver greater economic, social and health benefits to our community through investing in trails. We find much in common in our efforts and challenges and many differences as well. As the only representatives from Idaho, we (Sandpoint/Bonner County) lack some of the funding tools that other states have leveraged to develop and maintain their trail infrastructure, such as citizen funding initiatives and local levies. While we have a strong philanthropic community, it pales compared to similar communities like Whitefish or Jackson.

For Sandpoint to be competitive in this growing market to develop trail connectivity and the many benefits they bestow, we must be collaborative, strategic and resourceful. We created an impressive partnership with Trail Mix and a bold vision with Bonner County Trails Plan. The hard work of implementation is before us now. Trail work to this point has been funded through philanthropy and volunteerism. To develop and sustain the infrastructure needed for Sandpoint to fulfill the Trails Plan and to establish itself as a true trail destination, we need to develop a sustainable funding mechanism. Next month I will discuss how this could happen.

Please join me at the Mayor’s Roundtable this Friday morning, 8 a.m. at Cedar Street Bridge to discuss this issue and any others that are important to you.

Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at mayor@sandpointidaho.gov.

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