Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Beast of the East: The East Coast Greenway, Once Completed, Will Provide Bikers and Hikers 3,000 Miles of Trails from Maine to Florida

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Beast of the East: The East Coast Greenway, Once Completed, Will Provide Bikers and Hikers 3,000 Miles of Trails from Maine to Florida

Article excerpt

Imagine visiting the major cities on the east coast without the concern of motorized vehicles. Imagine a lengthier version of the Appalachian Trail providing access to scenic views, wildlife, and numerous cultural and historical resources, connecting the best of rural, suburban and urban America. Imagine the nation's first long-distance, city-to-city, multi-modal transportation corridor for cyclists, hikers and other non-motorized users. This is no fantasy; this is the East Coast Greenway (ECG).

Beginning as far north as Calais, Maine and reaching Key West, Fla., the ECG, when complete, will cover 2,950 miles of the eastern United States. Linking both urban and rural communities, the trail system, now more than 21 percent complete, aims to be completely off-road, making use of waterfront esplanades, park paths, abandoned railroads, canal towpaths and corridors.

Its non-motorized uses abound, providing access for cyclists, hikers, skaters, equestrians and people with disabilities. Connecting so many natural and cultural resources, the ECG offers opportunities for varied experiences seldom found on one route. For this reason alone, the trail is like no other.

Health Benefits

Based on a recent East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) member survey, improved health is the No. 1 benefit of multi-use trails. The Center for Disease Control seconds this, saying that because multi-use trails afford a number of activities (bicycling, equestrian, jogging, in-line skating, wheelchair recreation), they are ideal places to promote physical fitness.

Considering the ECG travels through states that, on average, have seen obesity rates rise from about 10 percent in the 1980s to more than 20 percent in the 2000s, the trail can provide millions of people the opportunity to squeeze in their suggested 90 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

Ask any user of the ECG and they will give you a number of reasons the trail contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Tanja Wiant, communications coordinator at the ECGA, recalls the following story. "I have a friend who was out of shape and didn't exercise. He moved close to the ECG, bought a bike, and began riding and rollerblading on the path with his girlfriend. They got really into it, are now in great shape and even got engaged on the path!"

The trail is an effective way to keep older adults fit as well. In the anonymous member survey, an ECGA member in Maryland said he is organizing exercise groups for older adults to ride on their local section of the ECG twice a month. ECG trails are ideal for seniors because its trails are flat, maintained, and generally have hard surfaces.

Environmental Benefits

Commenting on the Air Line Trail in Connecticut, another surveyed ECGA member states the trail is "[in] a beautiful area [and provides an] immediate link to nature." The Rails-to-Trails Conservacy suggests bird watching and fishing are two common outdoor recreation opportunities available to multiuse trail users. Based on the 2000 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, bird watching, along with walking, are two of the fastest growing trends in outdoor recreation. There is also a mutual benefit.

The ECG creates a safe walking trail for people to view nature as well as a green corridor for wildlife. Kitty Carter, membership coordinator of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, suggests "the only way to truly good health, both physically and mentally, is that a person must spend some time outdoors. Today, we don't give people enough opportunities to do that. [People no longer] just stop and smell the roses. The East Coast Greenway will allow people to take a few moments to reconnect."

Beyond roses, trails near riparian zones create a buffer to protect bodies of water from pollution. Because the trails are designated for non-motorized uses, users don't create pollution and the ECG can play an important role in open space conservation. …

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