By Doug Spence

Thirty years ago, local visionaries embarked on a bold plan to create a pathway around Boardman Lake.

They envisioned a trail supporting year round outdoor recreation and a stronger economy. There is no doubt these early visionaries got it right. With more than 100,000 visits last year alone, the Boardman Lake Trail is a beloved corridor for residents enjoying a walk or run along the lake, or using the trail as part of their daily commute.

Kids use the trail to sail at TACS, community members shop at Oryana, visit the library, or enjoy a great brew at a nearby establishment.

Those numbers and the benefits the trail brings will soar when the loop connects to NMC’s University Center, Logan’s Landing and multiple businesses along Cass Road.

The trail on the ground today is the result of community passion, persistence and strong public and private cooperation. Now we have a chance to close the loop. We know from on-the-ground trail experience that the trail benefits local residents and adjacent businesses.

But you don’t have to be a trail user or adjoining business to benefit from this effort. Last year TART Trails released a University of Florida study documenting the benefits of our community trails. The study echoed what national studies show — non-motorized trails provide important health and economic benefits, region-wide.

Trails support local business and boost tourism by extending the seasonality of many businesses. But the health care component struck a chord with me.

Health care professionals, business leaders, and the users themselves believe these trails help define the area and contribute to the Traverse region’s overall health and reputation as an active community.

In fact, health professionals argued that increased partnerships and improved access to trails for more citizens would be an excellent preventative health care strategy for people struggling with obesity, heart disease, and other ailments attributed to living a sedentary lifestyle. Research on trails similar to Leelanau and Sleeping Bear shows that a $104 investment in trail maintenance and amenities provides the same community health impact as a $555 investment in public health programming.

Next week the Garfield Township Board will be asked to contribute $200,000 to the development of the trail in addition to the $800,000 commitment they made to establish a maintenance endowment that will help care for the trail for generations to come.

I am a proud resident of Garfield Township who believes the township will benefit from this investment. Because, that’s what this is, an investment in a community asset that will support our economic and physical health for today and tomorrow. Garfield’s funding will leverage over $6 million in federal, state and local funds. The loop will support active transportation, strong economies and improved health and fitness today and for generations to come.

That’s a wise investment in our residents and our future. It’s time to close the loop.

Doug Spence, MD, is a board-certified family physician who has practiced medicine in Traverse City for 18 years.

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