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Greenways: paths to the future.

As communities across the country seek to build sustainable futures, they are mapping in paths of green from spaces like old railway lines, former canal routes, and deteriorating riverfronts. As cities try to work more harmoniously with nature, they are finding greenways not only spruce up the community, but represent an investment in a healthy and sustainable future.

What is a greenway? You may be using one regularly without knowing it. In Greenways for America, author Charles Little defines a greenway as any "openspace connector linking parks, nature reserves, cultural features, or historic sites with each other and with populated areas." Greenway trails may be short or long. Some are paved, while others are dirt paths. Often abutting rivers or streams, they offer recreationists an opportunity to view riparian habitat and local wildlife. For the 80 percent of Americans who live and work in urban and suburban areas, greenways offer a wilderness experience close to home.

When people think about these "linear parks," they usually focus on the recreational opportunities and aesthetic values associated with them. But now city, state, and federal officials say they benefit communities in other ways, too.

Ed McMahon, director of the American Greenway Program at The Conservation Fund, concurs. As an expert on greenways, McMahon studies the history, development, and benefits of local and national trailways. His findings have uncovered significant economic and ecological reasons why these paths of green need to be an integral part of a community's planning process.

Greenways can stimulate the economy by providing an array of quality-of-life benefits, McMahon says in a recent report."Studies demonstrate that linear parks can increase nearby property values, which can in turn increase local tax revenues."

Higher property values are just the beginning. Spending by residents on greenway-related products and services bolsters both employment rates and sales-tax revenues. With greenways comes increased tourism and a spirit of cooperation among diverse groups - citizens, businesses, and local government.

Economic growth is a happy by-product, but McMahon stresses that some of the biggest benefits come from the trees, plants, and flowers the trailways sustain.

"Greenways provide lifelines for wildlife moving from one isolated natural area to another, preserving biodiversity and wildlife habitat by protecting environmentally sensitive land along rivers, streams, and wetlands," says McMahon. They also protect water quality by providing a buffer against urban runoff and nonpoint source pollution.

In this era of shrinking budgets, greenways can also help cities reduce spending on costly activities such as flood control, stormwater management, and disaster prevention. City managers are wholeheartedly embracing them as a cost-effective, multi-purpose solution.

There are an estimated 5,000 greenways in the U.S. Some - among them the Blue Ridge Parkway and one of the longest and most famous greenways, the Appalachian Trail - cross state boundaries. Others, such as Pinhook Swamp Wildlife Movement Corridor in Florida, are used exclusively for species protection and wildlife migration and are closed to the public.

State and regional governments are taking a look at the benefits of linear parks. Portland, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Chattanooga, Denver, and Boston have well developed greenway systems and serve as successful examples to other cities. State governments support these initiatives by appointing commissions of civic, business, and government leaders to design and implement greenway plans.

So far, McMahon says, efforts have been very successful. "If all of the greenway projects that are currently planned or envisioned were complete, almost a third of the nation's landscape would be incorporated into greenways," says McMahon. "Clearly greenways are an idea that has caught the imagination of citizens and officials all over the nation."

Janine Guglielmino is an assistant editor at AMERICAN FORESTS.
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Author:Guglielmino, Janine E.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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