News Release

Using Trails as a Pathway to Better Health

Date: May 17, 2016
Contact: Kathy Kupper, National Park Service, 202-208-6843
Contact: CDC- NCEH/ATSDR Office of Communication, 770-488-0700

NPS and CDC Unveil Trail Planning Workbook

WASHINGTON –There is more to a trail than meets the eye. A well planned park or pathway promotes physical activity, protects the environment, and provides health benefits for individuals and communities. The National Park Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a toolkit for planning trails with community health in mind - The Parks, Trails, and Health Workbook: A Tool for Planners, Parks and Recreational Professionals, and Health Practitioners.

"Community health should be a core topic of conversation during every park, trail, and open space planning project," said Captain Sara Newman, Director Office of Public Health, National Park Service. "This workbook provides step by step instructions for community members, health professionals, and park managers to incorporate public health ideas and strategies in the development or improvement of green spaces."

National Park Service community planners work in local communities with a wide range of partners to plan and develop close to home recreational opportunities. The workbook, developed by the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Healthy Community Design Initiative, includes guidance about how to create a community health profile, identify partners, assess potential sites, collect data, and evaluate success.

In the planning stages, it is important to determine public access and usability and to ensure that facilities and amenities inspire activity. Geography, visibility, safety, and accessibility are all important factors that can determine the success of a trail or park.

Parks can improve the mental and physical health of individuals by providing places to relax, recreate, and socialize. They can also enhance the well-being of a community by providing tree cover, reducing flooding risks, preserving critical habitat, mitigating urban heat, and fostering public interaction.

"Improving parks and trails can have co-benefits that are not always apparent," said Dee Merriam, community planner for CDC's Healthy Community Design Initiative. "For example, a retention pond can help with storm water management and could also be a park amenity."

The Whatcom County Health Department and the Birch Bay Waterfront Group in Washington used the workbook to examine the health impact of proposed waterfront enhancements. The process helped the community select changes to the waterfront that would increase physical activity, enhance the safety of users, increase social cohesion, and help boost the Birch Bay economy. The data they collected and information developed were very useful and, as a result, Whatcom County's Board of Health has resolved to follow the workbook's framework on all future health and planning projects.

The National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program supports communityled natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the nation. Our national networkof conservation and recreation planning professionals partners with community groups, nonprofits, tribes, and state and local governments to design trails and parks, conserve and improve access to rivers, protect special places, and create recreation opportunities.

CDC's Healthy Community Design Initiative (HCDI) improves public health by helping create built environments that support healthy choices where people live, work, and play. HCDI works with local, state, and national partners to integrate public health into community design, transportation, and land-use decisions to provide people with convenient and safe opportunities to walk, bicycle, or use public transit.

Last updated: May 24, 2016