Healthy benefits of the Rails-to-Trails

Published 4:30 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

I moved to Tryon nine years ago and have come to love all the unique features this small town has to offer and the people who have invested to preserve its rich history. From the Tryon Fine Arts Center to the restoration of downtown, Tryon is truly a treasure. With that said, I believe there to be another investment in history, health, and economic significance that Tryon needs to pursue.

After doing a quick Google search, I learned that the Saluda grade is the “steepest standard-gauge mainline railway grade in the United States” (per Wikipedia). Recently, I have learned of the Rails-to-Trails movement and am urging Tryon to consider converting the unusable railroad to trails for multi use purposes such as walking and biking. What a unique piece of history, that has proven to be successful in other communities, to be shared by community members and visitors of our area. Along the trail, markers with historical facts could be placed and used for educational purposes such as a local field trip.

Of greatest significance, the multi use trail would promote mental and physical health. As a community with few mental health resources and a staggering death by suicide rate, increasing opportunities for physical activity has been proven “as effective as medication for mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression.” Now of course, we still need more interventions and resources for those with severe symptoms, but that’s another article for another day.

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The physical health benefits of regular cycling include: “increased cardiovascular fitness, increased muscle strength and flexibility, improved joint mobility, decreased stress levels, improved posture and coordination, strengthened bones, decreased body fat levels, and prevention or management of disease.” Also of note, cycling is a low-impact sport so it is an option for all ages, if you have a safe place to ride.

The current route up 176 for those who choose to take on the challenge is unsafe as the road is barely wide enough for two cars, not to mention cyclists or pedestrians. I remember being shocked when I first moved here by the number of cyclists who ride extremely curvy, narrow roads and may be completely blind to oncoming traffic. If the railroad was converted for trails, cyclists would have a safe place to ride which is a life-saving health benefit.

Yet we all know the bottom line is money. A local, converted trail known as the Greenville Swamp Rabbit Trail officially opened in April 2009. Today the trail is visited by over half a million people and brings in $6.7 million annually.

Also, because of growing popularity of the trail, real estate values surrounding the trail have increased. According to the Burke-Gilman Trail study on property values and crime in the Seattle area, real estate agents stated that real estate near the trail sells for six percent more on average. The residents felt the trail had increased their quality of life and supported the trail’s existence.

So what about the cost to maintain safety? Most of the reports I have read stated that the trail users themselves were a safety net against crime. The populations drawn to use the trail are families or individuals seeking physical activity. There is no documentation of increased crime rates on trails already in use.

Also, many trails, such as the Greenville Swamp Rabbit Trail have posted hours for use, shrubbery as barriers for property lines when needed and other community established policies to help keep the trails safe.

If we work together, the trail will be a healthy, safe, and profitable way to preserve the history and evolution of the railroad.

Emily Pereira, Tryon, N.C.