Wyoming communities increasingly want pathwaysby Kelsey Dayton
— April 22, 2014
There are two reactions people in Cheyenne have when a new pathway is built in their neighborhood; they either embrace it or voice their opposition. Eventually, though, it seems everyone comes to embrace the pathway systems as a point of pride.
“Whenever you put it in someone’s backyard, they will use it,” said Jeff Wiggins, Greenway coordinator in Cheyenne.
Cheyenne is working to add to its 37-mile Greenway with connecting trails throughout the city that can get residents downtown, or to outlying neighborhoods.
The city is one of many Wyoming communities expanding its pathway programs.
A recent report from the Alliance for Biking and Walking ranked Wyoming 11th in the nation for people who bike or walk to work. It’s an impressive feat considering the state’s climate and rural population, said Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways. But it’s not entirely surprising, he said.
Communities throughout the state are working to improve biking and walking opportunities because pathways contribute to quality of life. They even attract visitors and new business.
While Wyoming’s pathway projects and its biking/walking commuter ranking is encouraging, there is still more to be done, said Young. Last year the League of American Bicyclists ranked Wyoming 33rd among the most bike-friendly states — a drop from 25th the year before.
Wyoming also falls behind in pathway system investment, Young said. Wyoming invests about 1 percent of federal funds into pathways compared to the national average of 2.1 percent, he said.
However, many Wyoming communities are using local taxpayer dollars to expand pathways, relying on voter-approval.
In Sheridan, the city’s efforts have created 15 miles of pathways connecting city parks and downtown. About 80 percent of the trails were developed in the last 10 years, said Colin Betzler, director of the Sheridan Community Land Trust, which focuses on trails in the county. The organization has plans to help develop about 17 miles of non-motorized dirt paths in the next three years.
“The people have really spoken quite loudly in terms of pathways and trails in the forms of the one-percent tax,” he said. Wyoming charges a 4 percent sales tax on most items. Local governments can vote to approve an additional 1 percent for special projects.
Betzler said nearby Buffalo had a great trail system way back in the 1980s, before it was trendy for communities to boast pathways through town. That created interest in Sheridan.
Pathway proponents often focus on the recreational benefits, but people come to depend on them in many ways in daily life. “As people learn about the accessible recreation opportunities, they start to make them habit,” said Betzler. Community is a growing trend on pathways. For some people, it’s less about a healthy lifestyle choice and more about affordable transportation.
In Casper the primary trail follows the North Platte river, but the trail system is expanding beyond the river, according to Angela Emery, executive director of the Platte River Trails Trust. Work is underway on a new project on the west side of town in partnership between the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the city of Casper. Emery said she expects there will be pathways throughout the city one day. For now the city is working on identifying bike routes and creating bike lanes to make travel through town easier.
Building a large pathway system can take considerable time. Cheyenne started building its Greenway in 1991. “It’s been an evolving thing ever since,” said Wiggins, the Greenway coordinator in Cheyenne.
It started as a recreation opportunity along the creeks, then grew into a full transportation system. There are trails signs to guide people, and underpasses for avoiding busy roads. This summer the city plans to fill in a quarter-mile gap in the loop on the northeastern side of town, completing a 16-mile horseshoe of the city. There also are plans for creating more bike lanes and a designated bike route with signs to help cyclists navigate town.
The goal is to get a pathway within a half-mile of every neighborhood so people can use the paths to get to the grocery store, commute to work or just get out for recreation.
Wiggins said that communities increasing expect pathways as part of a city’s normal services and infrastructure — just like maintaining traffic lights and roads. Nearby Ft. Collins, Colo., and Boulder, Colo., often get praise for being bike-friendly, and Cheyenne residents expect to have a similar quality of life.
“They are now part of the basics amenities that are necessary to a modern life,” he said.
Voters have supported pathways through the optional 1 percent sales tax. The county has raised more than $10 million during the past 20 years through specific purpose taxes for pathways, and some of that money has been leveraged for additional grant money. There are plans to add parks along the pathway, and to gather data on pathway use.
Cheyenne residents already understand the benefits. The anecdote city leaders often share is that in the late 1990s when Lowe’s was looking for a regional distribution center, a scout visited Cheyenne and was impressed with how many residents used the trails. The Lowe’s scout thought that that quality of living made the city a contender. The company now occupies one of the state’s biggest buildings in Cheyenne.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton
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