The surprising value of trail building in our community
In 1990, Gov. Roy Romer put together a committee of leaders from business, political and conservation communities across the state to figure out a way to sustain Colorado’s parks, wildlife, and open space for the future.
A long public process ensued and the committee came back with multiple recommendations, including a ballot initiative that would direct lottery funds to preserve and enhance the state’s outdoor resources, including rivers, trails and open space. The ballot initiative — a constitutional amendment — passed and the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund was created, as well as a state board to oversee and distribute those funds. Since then, almost $1 billion has been invested by GOCO into rivers, trails and open-space projects. A whopping $39 million of that has been spent on more than 200 projects in Mesa County since its inception 25 years ago. That is something to celebrate.
And celebrate we did last week in Civic Park in Fruita where GOCO held its 25th anniversary celebration dinner. It was notable that the event was held in Fruita and even more surprising when Executive Director Chris Castilian commented that in his six months on the job, he’s visited Fruita six times.
The celebration was one of the cooler events I’ve attended, which is even more remarkable because GOCO is a government organization and we all know that government rarely equals cool. Civic Park was set up with a huge bonfire and tents strung with lights while local bluegrass band Clyde & The Milltailers entertained the bundled-up crowd that came out despite the wet skies and cool temps. But the night turned out to be a beautiful one as we celebrated all of the incredible projects accomplished with the millions of dollars that have been invested in Mesa County trails, parks and recreation projects. Just a few days later, GOCO announced a $1.5 million grant to the Monument Connector Trail project in Grand Junction which, when complete, will connect the Riverfront trail to the Lunch Loops. GOCO is obviously a tremendous asset to our community — especially over the past decade when city and county coffers were in decline and none of those projects would have gotten done without their help.
Earlier this summer I wrote about my mother who picked up her first road bike at the age of 66 when the Monument View section of the Riverfront trail near her home was completed. A year later, she completed a 500-mile ride across Colorado. All because we built a trail.
When we build trails, people use them. But beyond the feel-good, healthy lifestyle argument, we can now make an economic argument for trail building.
CMU economics professor Nathan Perry and some of his colleagues recently finished a study on the economic impact of natural amenities on home values. In it, they looked at home values at three different distances from trails, golf courses, Colorado National Monument, BLM land, public parks, and open space. It should come as no surprise that homes built along the Colorado National Monument or on golf courses have higher values. Interestingly, the closer you get to BLM and public parks, home values actually declined — I assume because those are public spaces with more people and noise and most of us moved to western Colorado for some peace and quiet. However, the biggest surprise from the study was that home values increased the closer they were to trails. It’s really that simple. If you build trails to neighborhoods, you increase home values.
So thanks to GOCO for all that they’ve done to help our home values. Now let’s keep building.