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Give trails a chance
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Whoa, everyone. There’s a lot of hubbub at the moment over whether or not the county should buy a mostly abandoned railroad corridor. The concerns revolve around diminished revenues and what we might do with that corridor. In particular, there are people who passionately believe in what multi-use trails have been shown to do for the economic development, health, and happiness of a community, and there are people who believe trails are a waste of money that serve a limited population and facilitate crime. A third opinion is that in-town trails are great, but that abandoned railroad corridors might be useful again someday for freight or passenger rail and should not be compromised by other uses. I think the good thing about the debate is that all three opinions represent some level of thoughtful consideration of how best to sustain and improve our community. Acknowledge that, and we just might find some more common ground.

First, let’s talk about that railroad corridor but not about how to use it. Last year, the county requested the money for the purpose of buying that railroad line, knowing it would require a local match. Congressman Marshall represented the request on our behalf and secured over $1,000,000. Opinions on federal spending aside (try), I ask you to think about what local control of a corridor connecting four of our five municipalities could mean for our future versus the potential impact of ownership by someone who might not have the best interests of our community at heart. At most, we might have to cover 20 percent of the cost. Strategically, purchasing the corridor would be a very good move.

Now, about trails – the previous county commission applied for and secured over two million dollars in government funding for a trail that will run from Porterdale to Eastside High School. They set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars as the necessary county match. Construction will begin this summer on one portion of the trail. Mr. Ewing, Mr. Henderson, and Mr. Fleming’s father, Esther, were part of that decision. My personal opinion is that we owe them and the other members a debt of gratitude for their forward thinking that also brought us state and national accolades for future planning. It’s been awhile since Newton County’s trail plans have been in the papers, but these plans are not new information to the public.

Yes, I am a big supporter of trails. Actually, I’m a big supporter of all alternative modes of transportation, including passenger rail. Realistically, I’d bet that passenger rail will run down the Interstate corridors in the future, and it will become increasingly undesirable to have freight lines through historic downtown areas. I also predict that people will become more and more stressed by commutes and being cooped up inside for most hours in a week and will appreciate any amenity that lets them get outside for awhile and away from traffic-choked roads.

Trails are a smart investment. I know from personal experience. I helped build one that runs right past my house, and every day I feel a great sense of satisfaction when families, children, joggers, and dog-walkers meander past in obvious enjoyment. When we first talked about building it, some of my neighbors were not at all convinced and had some of the same concerns that we’re hearing in the papers and public forums now. But having lived with them for awhile now and used them personally, a great many of the former naysayers are now supporters. Come try it out for yourself.