By Ross Saxton
You’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the Mad River Valley who doesn’t understand how a well-built trail or path through the woods or meadow brings joy and a sense of freedom that is hard to find elsewhere. Winding around trees, across open fields, through big fern patches, and among filtered sun with all the sweet and earthy smells of the outdoors rejuvenates the soul and scientifically has been shown to boost physical and mental health.
A strategically planned network of trails with good access intensifies these public health benefits for the community even more. And human health isn’t the only thing that trails can improve; the economic vitality of a town can flourish when a good system of trails is nearby. It’s no wonder trails and paths are so central to the decisions we humans make.
The Mad River Valley is a place where this especially rings true as four in five visitors come here for “the availability of recreation trails and opportunities to hike, bike, walk, ski and snowshoe,” (MRV Moves community survey) and “80% of Americans consider having trails and places to take a walk one of their top priorities when deciding where they would like to live.” (National Association of Realtors Community Preference Survey, 2015).
Even more, Kelsey & Norden Resort Real Estate Surveys tell us that second homeowners rate trails as the number one amenity among their buying decisions and that their experience “must be connected by visible and accessible pathways and trails.”
The economic results of our recreation-rich Valley are vitally important to local businesses since day visitors spend about $70 per day while overnight visitors spend $177 per day; numbers are likely even higher now since these figures are from the 2014 MRV Economic Study.
With this info in mind and that several surveys across the country indicate that people are increasingly valuing downtown trail connections while data shows us downtown trail connections improve business in downtowns, it becomes quite obvious why Mad River Valley trail and recreation organizations are working vigilantly to connect our Valley’s trails systems and paths into Irasville via the VOREC grant initiative. It also points to why Vermont awarded Mad River Valley the largest grant amount of this year’s VOREC program. Having great trails and even great trail networks is just the beginning of what an outdoors-oriented community like the Mad River Valley can achieve; these networks need to be connected to our economic and business center if the community wants to maximize the benefits of existing trail and path networks.
The proposed Irasville Path and included Route 100 crossings, new pedestrian and biker bridge across the Mill Brook, and new Trail Hub/Visitor’s Center next to LocalFolk are gamechangers for our local outdoor recreation access. The connectivity opportunities that stem from this project are surely to enhance our local economy. And not to be overlooked, this project will enhance the quality of life for people who live in the hundreds of homes that will be directly connected by pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure to more than 50 miles of world-class trails and pathways. The future of the Mad River Valley’s outdoor recreation is looking good!