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Trails are part of the fabric of our community, with intrinsic benefits extending far beyond the simple corridors on the ground. They are linkages within and between communities for transportation and recreation, and a means to engage individuals with their community as well as their own physical and emotional health. Increasingly, trails – including all kinds of pedestrian and bicycle routes – are recognized as essential elements of communities' transportation and health infrastructures. Trails are a vital mechanism to build connections between generations, and a means to introduce children and school classes to the natural world. As concerns grow about traffic congestion (yes, even in the Upper Valley!), global climate change, the disconnect between today’s youth and nature, and the health impacts of a sedentary lifestyle, including childhood obesity, the importance of trails as relatively simple, inexpensive solutions becomes more compelling. In light of scarce public funding for trails, it is critical to educate, motivate and engage citizen volunteers to plan, create, use and maintain local trail networks.
Founded in 1999 as an outgrowth of a multi-community needs assessment, the Upper Valley Trails Alliance approaches its 10th anniversary with a solid record of accomplishment, and has become an important resource for enhanced quality of life and healthy communities in this region. UVTA's mission is to advocate for the use, maintenance, and development of trails in the Upper Valley through education, outreach and stewardship. UVTA connects people and places through a regional trail network, leads a coalition of local trail groups and advocates, and promotes active lifestyles through trail use in all seasons. There is no other entity filling the need to coordinate and maximize the efforts of the various trail-related organizations throughout the area. UVTA's methodology includes Stewardship, Outreach, and Education. UVTA projects and programs make simultaneous use of these approaches, achieving a remarkable impact for a small organization.
The Trails Alliance promotes Stewardship by supporting, coordinating and leveraging efforts made throughout the region by civic organizations such as town Conservation Commissions, Recreation Departments, non-profits like Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Upper Valley Land Trust, agencies such as Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, and generous individual landowners who offer public access to their property. Results of these efforts include the construction the new King Arthur Trail linking the Dresden School District athletic fields with the Norwich town center, trail improvements at Wright's Mountain in Bradford, and volunteer trail mapping at Paradise Park in Windsor. UVTA empowers volunteer organizations to engage a broad cross-section of their communities — including people with no prior trail-building experience — by leading trail-building workshops. UVTA also has a Regional Lending Tool Shed and consultation services for trail planning and construction.
Outreach is one of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance's more visible faces, and one that is valuable in expanding the number of people engaged with trails in their communities. People who may be new to trails often become motivated to pursue trail activities after being introduced to them through an event such as the annual Winter Weekends at Lake Morey in January, listed as one of Vermont's Top Ten Events by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the Tour de Taste bicycle ride in September, the December Winter Trail Fair or the Upper Valley Trails Day in June, or a monthly "Trail of the Month" guided walk on a selected Upper Valley trail. Anyone, whether a UVTA member or not, is welcome to participate in any of these events and also may receive UVTA's monthly electronic calendar of trail-related events throughout the region.
Education, especially with regard to Health and Fitness, has been a focus of UVTA's attention in the past several years, since being selected in 2003 as one of 25 recipients nationwide (from among 1,000 applicants) for a five-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Active Living by Design program. UVTA assembled a multi-disciplinary partnership, called Upper Valley Trails for Life, to demonstrate the value of trails in increasing physical activity among Upper Valley residents. Trails for Life emphasizes the health benefits of trail use, and has been very successful in highlighting the positive impact trails have in our communities and the potential trails hold to promote healthy lives. For example, UVTA has:
- Published the first multi-community trail guide for the Upper Valley highlighting a dozen trails in Norwich and Hartford, and a Winter Trail Guide describing another eight Vermont trails suitable for winter travel.
- Developed the “Passport to Winter Fun” program, distributed through 20 Upper Valley elementary schools this past season, to encourage healthful outdoor activity by children and families during the winter.
- Initiated a pioneering prescription walking program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
- Completed a study of possible pedestrian/bike use of the railroad bridge between West Lebanon and White River Junction.