I have been focusing on the larger environmental topics with previous posts – things like water, solar energy, and pollinators – but now I’d like to turn to a topic that doesn’t typically receive much attention: trails and city walkability.
For those of us who love the outdoors but live in a more developed area, one of the best ways to enjoy nature is by taking a break from our cars and walking or biking instead. Walking and biking have many benefits. Not only do people enjoy nature better and improve their health by being more active, but they also improve the air quality around them. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Minnesota have completed studies that show significant air pollution from car use. Building cities to include more car-free options for transportation will have overall environmental benefits as well.
Despite all of the positives, it seems walking paths are a bit under-developed. Some areas, especially in the East Metro, have wonderful biking and walking paths for recreation, often crisscrossing wetlands where red-winged black bird chirp and baby toads clumsily hop over stones and mud. Other areas it seems like paths just disappear and pedestrians have to turn back the way they came. Paths, bikeways, and trails are certainly complicated from a planning perspective. Their jurisdiction lies with a number of different entities, including city, county, private owners, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Community pedestrian path projects require thoughtful and consistent collaboration with a city Parks Commission, City Council, City Administrator, and citizen groups who would benefit from the path. It can be tricky, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for a community to come together and shape the place they live in.
My goal here is not to belabor these complexities, but to showcase one community working on a unique effort to have an entire connected path around their city. This plan is happening in the city of Mahtomedi, and it’s called Mahtomedi Go Round. One individual, Steve Wolgamot mapped out this 10-mile completed path and residents can now refer to the map in making their way around the city without a car. However, while the path is technically “there,” it’s not all entirely safe for pedestrians. There are areas where the path is on a very narrow road shoulder, or doesn’t include a crosswalk. Currently, Wolgamot and a few dedicated individuals who are part of a group called the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative are working on getting the bits and pieces in place to ensure that this path can hold the highest standards of walkability and safety.
In one recent partnership success for the Mahtomedi trail project, a property owner allowed part of his land to be used for a public path. This is called a “Neighborway;” it’s where a land owner gives legal permission for people to walk across a designated part of their property while also absolving themselves of any liability should pedestrians become injured on the designated path. In late July, volunteers gathered to clear Mahtomedi’s first Neighborway and spread mulch over the new path. I arrived toward the end of the path-making process and witnessed happy volunteers and even some new users of the path! It was a terrific sight, and the start of what will hopefully be more trail blazing successes in the area.
I plan to follow Mahtomedi’s trail successes, and hopefully to participate in their first intra-city 10-mile race when that happens!
Is your city considering a more expanded pedestrian path system? I want to hear about it! Email me at Julie@conservationminnesota.org.