Opinion: Celebrating healthy trail systems, nature and community service | Opinion



Human health, nature and climate change are inextricably linked. Thus, solutions and behaviors that improve human health often improve ecosystem health, and vice versa. Growing your own food, composting, adding solar panels and choosing to cycle instead of drive all mitigate the causes of climate change, while improving the quality of our air and our food.

Arguably one of the most effective ways to improve human well-being and mitigate the impacts of climate change is a robust and healthy trail network. Forests play an essential role in moderating CO2. Forests, parks and trail systems consist of a biodiverse and complex world of interdependent organisms that are necessary to maintain human health. In fact, without healthy environments capable of supporting a diversity of life, no human population can exist. Trails create safe access for humans to explore wild ecosystems, protecting vulnerable species from foot traffic.

There are also the more obvious recreational benefits of trail systems that invite people to get out and enjoy nature and, in doing so, reap the benefits of better heart health, strong muscle tone and improved brain development.

In addition, hikes and excursions of all kinds improve psychological and physical well-being, nature helps with emotional regulation and helps minimize anxiety and depression by improving concentration and reducing stress.

After two decades of working with humans in and around trail networks, I am still impressed with the breadth and accessibility of our trail networks and how lucky we are to live in a country that is consistently dedicated to health. and maintaining our parks and trails.

This week is Michigan Trails Week and we have a lot to celebrate. Few states offer trail networks as large or as diverse as Michigan, with more than 13,400 miles of state-designated trails, 4,020 miles of hiking trails, 1,375 miles of rail trails, 4,090 miles of designated ATV and motorcycle trails, 6,165 miles of snowmobile trails, 845 miles of equestrian trails, 2,085 miles of bike trails, 635 miles of water trails, and 365 miles of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.

Without sustainable trail design and consistent trail maintenance, these networks become eroded, degraded, overgrown, and potentially hazardous to human and ecosystem health. As stewards of these spaces, SEEDS EcoCorps and area partners such as TART and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy have collaborated to organize seasonal training for staff and volunteers on design, construction and maintenance. trails. EcoCorps leaders and corps members support volunteer efforts on several public (and private) lands in forests and trail systems, such as the North Country Trail.

Because we know how difficult this job can be, we are excited to welcome an AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) to our area.

Over the next few weeks, this group of hardworking young adults will be working on trails and parks alongside several area nonprofits. The AmeriCorps team will work with SEEDS EcoCorps staff and volunteers at Glacial Hills, a unique site owned by governing partners in County Antrim, Township of Forest Home, Village of Bellaire, Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

AmeriCorps members come from a variety of places, from small towns to big cities, and their reasons for joining AmeriCorps are as diverse as where they come from. Some members are recent university graduates reconsidering their chosen fields of study; others are high school graduates who want to explore career options before committing to college; still others are drawn to the program to experience different parts of the country and meet new people. Although they all have various reasons for joining us, they all have one thing in common: a desire to support communities and participate in projects that benefit people and the environment.

Over the next few weeks, you may see the AmeriCorps and EcoCorps teams working on trails across the region and on projects at Historic Barns Park. If you happen to see them, please let them know how much you appreciate their service on our public lands. Corps members help make our trails accessible and bio-resilient, ensuring that we can all experience the many benefits of well-built trails.

About the Author: Jennifer Flynn is the EcoCorps Director at SEEDS Ecology and Education Centers. She has a background in eco-therapy and eco-psychology, and is a naturalist and regular trail user.

About the Author: Jennifer Flynn is the Director of EcoCorps at SEEDS Ecology and Education Centers. She has a background in eco-therapy and eco-psychology, and is a naturalist and regular trail user.


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