July fourth weekend was not only a celebration for our country; it was a celebration for the health of Berea residents.

The Berea Trail Town research team was out on the Indian Fort Mountain trail during the holiday weekend collecting the annual health and physical activity information from the trails users. One walker stated, “I walked 5.2 miles today. I do it every day. If it wasn’t for the trails I wouldn’t be able to get my exercise in.”

The first one-mile portion (Stevenson trail) has increased its annual use from 7,748 users in 2017 to 17,911 annual uses in 2019. Early research estimated the health impact of the trail on mortality. Over the past three years, annual trail users consistently participated in an average of 59 minutes of exercise five days per week (Summers, Heggen, & Hackbert, 2019). This amount of physical activity corresponds with the prevention of 71 premature deaths per year (World Health Organization, Health Economic Impact Calculator, 2019).

This year with the pandemic, Skylar Gayhart’s research is focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on monthly trail visits. Since April, the Stevenson trail, which is the first one-mile portion, has seen an increase of 82% from 2019. The stay-at-home order has continued to increase trail uses with May seeing 6,150 uses, and June recording even more with 7,345 total users.

The second mile Shortline Pike connector trail was completed in September 2018. The importance of Shortline pike connection cannot be underestimated. As one user stated, “I am more active. Better health for me and my spouse and children.”

Increased cycling for all ages has been a primary benefit of a longer multi-use path. Youth and young adults younger than 18 have seen a 37% increase in cycling since 2018. Peter Hackbert’s, professor at Berea College and the Entrepreunship for the Public Good, students' over four years have completed research with the cycling communities.

Their extensive research includes interviewing Transamerica cyclists, local merchants and studying the economic impact of other trails in Eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia. It concluded the classic brand of Berea as Kentucky Arts and Crafts capital tourism was declining. Secondarily, people who traveled to communities that blended adventure tourism (cycling/hiking) with arts/crafts and heritage tourism saw significant increases in tourism expenditures and tax revenues.

The residential and multi-county trails that distinguish Berea could have significant economic benefits for business retention and appreciation for the arts and crafts heritage and tax revenues that benefit municipal government.

Hackbert states, “It is about time the city recognize and promote the trails as an asset to the quality of life and tourism destination in Berea.” The analysis of the trail users per day and overnight expenditures are greater than expenditures for arts crafts leisure tourists.

As the pandemic numbers increase across the country, one way to stay healthy and happy at home is to visit 200 Harrison Court, park your car, and get out. Bike, run or walk out and back the 3.2 miles to the Pinnacle parking lot. Not only can one exercise, enjoy nature, but you can do it safely.

For more information, contact Louisa Summers at summersl@berea.edu.

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