By Melinda Vonstein
Published in This Week Community News
Every year, residents and visitors travel more than 12 million miles on the Central Ohio Greenways: a network of multiuse trails that connects us to natural spaces, cultural sites, job centers and other regional destinations.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many of our region’s trails experienced near-double increases in usage as people sought reprieve from the stay-at-home and social-distancing mandates.
Still today, trails are proving to be critical amenities supporting mental and physical health. A recent Central Ohio Greenways user survey revealed that nearly 100% of trail users reported improved mental health because of trail use.
As signs point to COVID-19 becoming endemic, trail usage is not waning. Interest in more walkable and bikeable communities steadily is driving demand for trails that conveniently connect the places that people need and want to go.
With a vision to add more than 500 miles of trails to the 230-plus-mile network, COG will create a fully connected network that will serve as the backbone of active transportation and outdoor recreation opportunities across central Ohio.
When fully built, each mile of the COG network could generate nearly $200,000 of health-care savings annually, $300,000 in annual direct spending associated with trail usage and an 84,000-mile reduction in vehicle miles traveled. (Source: The Regional Impacts of a Completed Central Ohio Greenways in Franklin County, 2021)
The COG network is a unique and wonderful asset that encourages visitors, tourists and residents alike to walk, bike or even paddle to destinations for work or play. Building more trails is beneficial to the quality of life and essential to meeting the region’s growing demand. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is committed to finding innovative funding solutions to do just that.
Additionally, MORPC is taking this opportunity to celebrate the trails that we already have and encourage even more people to use them for fun, health and commuting.
We invite you to join MORPC, COG, Rails to Trails Conservancy and our many other community partners April 23 for Celebrate Trails Day, a day dedicated to getting outside to enjoy all that our local, regional and national trails have to offer. Communities across central Ohio are holding celebrations, so whether you choose to explore a new-to-you trail or celebrate the trail in your neighborhood, there is sure to be an event for you.
Additionally, COG is giving back and celebrating trail users, too. MORPC has teamed with Experience Columbus on a great outdoor trail passport program. There is no need to download an app; simply get your free Outdoor Trails passport online and delivered to your phone, check in to locations along the COG trails and get rewarded with a chance to win prizes – in addition to all the rewards that come with enjoying some of the best and most-loved natural amenities central Ohio has to offer.
To learn more about COG and the Outdoor Trails Passport, go to centralohiogreenways.com.
Melinda Vonstein is a program manager at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. MORPC’s purpose is to bring communities of all sizes and interests together to collaborate on best practices and plan for the future of the region.