Benefits of Trails and Greenways


Greenways are corridors of protected open space managed for conservation and recreation purposes. Greenways often follow natural land or water features, and link nature reserves, parks, cultural features and historic sites with each other and with populated areas. Greenways can be publicly or privately owned, and some are the result of public/private partnerships. Trails are paths used for walking, bicycling, horseback riding, or other forms of recreation, exercise or transportation. Trails and greenways often follow abandoned rail corridors, canals, and utility rights-of-way. Some greenways include trails, while others do not. From the hills of inland America to the beaches and barrier islands of the coast, greenways provide a vast network linking America’s special places.


Trails and greenways benefit individuals and improve communities by providing not only recreation and transportation opportunities, but also by improving economic and community development opportunities. Some of the many trails and grreenways benefits include:

  • making communities better places to live by preserving and creating open spaces;
  • encouraging physical fitness and healthy lifestyles;
  • creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation and non-motorized transportation;
  • strengthening local economies;
  • protecting the environment; and
  • preserving culturally and historically valuable areas.


Trails and greenways provide countless opportunities for economic renewal and growth. Increased property values and tourism and recreation-related spending on items such as bicycles, in-line skates and lodging are just a few of the ways trails and greenways positively impact community economies.

  • According to a study each of the 150,000 annual visitors to Ohio’s Little Miami Scenic Trail spend an average of $13.54 per visit just on food, beverages and transportation to the trail. In addition, they spend an estimated $277 each year on clothing, equipment and accessories to use during these trail trips.
  • In a 1992 study, the National Park Service estimated the average economic activity associated with three multi-purpose trails in Florida, California and Iowa was $1.5 million annually.
  • Trails and greenways provide prime opportunities for wildlife watching. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, birdwatchers spend over $5.2 billion annually.


Greenways protect important habitats and provide corridors for people and wildlife. The preserved Pinhook Swamp between Florida’s Osceola National Forest and Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge protects a vital wildlife corridor. This important swampland ecosystem sustains numerous species including the Florida black bear, timber rattlesnake and the Florida sandhill crane.

Trails and greenways help improve air and water quality. Trails provide enjoyable and safe options for transportation, which helps reduce air pollution. By protecting land along rivers and streams, greenways prevent soil erosion and filter pollution caused by surface runoff.

Greenways also serve as natural floodplains. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flooding causes over $1 billion in property damages every year. By restoring developed floodplains to their natural state, many riverside communities are preventing potential flood damage, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee and Houston, Texas.

Finally, trails and greenways are hands-on environmental classrooms. People of all ages can see for themselves the precious and intriguing natural world from which they often feel so far removed.


Many people realize exercise is important for maintaining good health in all stages of life; however many do not regularly exercise. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that 60% of American adults are not regularly active and another 25% are not active at all.

In communities across the country, people do not have access to trails, parks, or other recreation areas close to their homes. Trails and greenways provide a safe, inexpensive avenue for regular exercise for people living in rural, urban and suburban areas. In a study of residents in 12 counties in southeastern Missouri, 55.2% of trail users who responded to the survey stated that they are walking more now than before they had access to a trail. In addition, women and people with a high school education or less were twice as likely to have increased their amount of walking since using trails.


Trails and greenways have the power to connect us to our heritage by preserving historic places and by providing access to them. They can give people a sense of place and a connection to our history. For example, the Trail of Tears tells a dramatic story in Native American history in more than four states and the trails networked through battlefields in Virginia give an opportunity to learn about our country’s civil war. Some trails and greenways draw the public to historic sites. For example, the six-mile Bethabara Trail and Greenway in Winston-Salem, North Caolina draws people to the birthplace of the city, the original Moravian Chrisitian village founded in the late 1700s. Other trails preserve transportation corridors, such as rail-trails, which utilize historic rail corridors and provide a glance at the importance of this mode of transportation. Many canal paths, preserved for their historic importance as a transportation route before the advent of railroads, are now used by thousands of people each year for bicycling, running, hiking and strolling. Many historic structures, such as taverns and locks, have been preserved along canals, which enhances the overall experience.


Trails in Urban areas can be particularly well suited as a transportation corridor, connecting residential areas with commercial districts. Trails, such as the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, Washington, the Pinellas Trail in Clearwater, Florida, the Minuteman Trail in Boston , Massachusetts, and several trails in the Washington, DC area all support at least 1,000 commuters each day, about a third of the average weekday use. When people make trips by trail, they reap both personal and societal benefits, including physical fitness, reduced out-of-pocket commuting costs, and a reduction of air pollution and traffic congestion.


Trail and greenway systems help make communities livable. Byu their nature, these linear parks have the ability to connect more people to more places. Residents and companies alike understand the values of trails, greenways and open space. Many companies look for quality of life amenities when searching for a new location.

  • Research on the role of parks, recreation and open space on company relocation decisions showed that owners of small companies rated those amenities highest among their priorities.
  • The results from a survey conducted by the Sierra Business Council of California found that retaining the rural character of the countryside was imperative to attract businesses.

More and more communities are including trails and greenways into plans to reshape their neighborhoods and create better places to live. The citizens of southeast Michigan are creating a trail and greenway network on a regional scale that includes seven counties. The plan incorporates river corridors with rail, utility and road corridors into a single network. The design calls for a system of hubs and links that concentrates human activity in the hubs while providing transportation, recreation, and natural amenities through the links.

Trails and greenways provide what many Americans seek – close-to-home recreational areas, community meeting places, historic preservation, educational experiences, natural landscapes and beautification. Both trails and greenways help communities build pride by ensuring that their neighborhoods are good places to live, so that children can safely walk or bike to a park, school, or to a neighbor’s home. Trails and greenways help make communities more attractive and friendly places to live.

To learn more about the Rails to Trails Conservancy, check out its web sites at, (to search for rail trails in your state), or (for technical assistance on building trails).

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