The Trail Ahead
A leisurely walk to admire the changing colors of leaves during fall. A family outing riding bicycles together on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Meeting with a friend to walk and talk. These activities have taken on a new meaning in 2020, particularly during this season of uncertainty. The outdoors have become a place for socially distanced connections, a place to improve physical and mental health, and a much needed escape into nature.
For some Iowans, trails are the only readily available way to access the outdoors. Iowa currently ranks 47th for the percentage of publicly owned lands, with a mere 2.8%. In a state with fewer parks and green spaces, trails provide a much-needed connection to nature. Outdoor recreation can reduce stress levels by releasing cortisol and adrenaline, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate. In a time when health is on many people’s minds, it’s important that all Iowans have easy access to the outdoors.
Trails hold a special place in the hearts of Iowa communities where they provide opportunities to be physically active, connect with others and appreciate Iowa’s beauty. The Red Rock Prairie Trail (RRPT) is an example of a trail that, when complete, will connect three small cities in Iowa (Mitchellville, Prairie City and Monroe) to each other and Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. This will be the first trail in the cities of Mitchellville and Monroe, and will enhance the quality of life in these communities. Surrounded by blooming prairie plants, migrating birds and fresh air, RRPT users will be able to explore this region of Iowa in a new and rewarding way.
The pandemic has reminded Iowans of the joy of spending time outdoors and being immersed in nature. There were so many new trail users in Iowa that there was a bike shortage throughout most of the summer. Trails have been busier than ever, with everyone finding time to spend time outdoors.
Post-election, pandemic and whatever else that comes our way in 2021, it is crucial we maintain this newfound connection with nature and continue to support the expansion of Iowa’s trail networks. Trails are good for the body and the soul; they remind us to take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty all around us. We must continue to advocate for trails to ensure all Iowans have access to these beneficial public spaces.