Nebraska and Iowa to continue funding recreational trails

UPDATE: All but two states have chosen to continue funding recreational trails, according to Streetsblog.

We’re a little bit late to this story, but thought it was worth mentioning that officials in Nebraska and Iowa have chosen to continue to funding recreational trails for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Why is this important? Two reasons: 1) Recreational space that allows people to enjoy time outdoors is crucial to the Foundation’s vision of green and livable communities; and 2) The new federal transportation law has shifted more discretion over trails funding to the states, so it’s a topic likely to come up in your area even if you don’t live in Nebraska or Iowa.

Lincoln, the home of Arbor Day Foundation headquarters, boosts an extensive and popular trail network that expands 128 miles into rural Lancaster County and a number of neighboring communities. It surely didn’t hurt that Lincoln is also the state capital, meaning key decision-makers in the Department of Roads and the Governor’s office have seen the value of the trails firsthand.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, bicycle enthusiasts in both states lobbied heavily to keep the funding from being diverted to other projects, which is now allowed under the new federal transportation law, MAP-21:

Rick Sanders, president of the 85-member Bellevue Bike Club, said he is grateful. Members of his club, as well as other bicyclers, had lobbied to retain the state programs, as well as federal funding.

“We’re probably one of the most fiscally conservative states in the Union,” Sanders said. “Having our governor step up for trails is good for the cause.”

According to the Great Plains Trails Network, every dollar spent on trails in Lincoln yields nearly $3 in medical savings due to healthier living. The trails also increase property values by up to 20 percent, a similar figure to the estimated increase associated with a robust tree canopy.

Photo courtesy of the Great Plains Trails Network.

On Arbor Day, Nebraska is where it all began

It was 140 years ago that Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton proposed the nation’s first tree-planting holiday. A century later, the Arbor Day Foundation was launched, in large part to bring the spirit of conservation and stewardship to the forefront all year round.

The Foundation has grown and evolved a lot in the past 40 years, but the mission remains the same: we inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.

Nebraska is still steeped in Arbor Day history. The Foundation continues to make its headquarters in downtown Lincoln. Tomorrow, we will hold the 40th annual Arbor Day Awards at Lied Lodge & Conference on the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. The winners will accept their award on the ground Morton once called his own, the site of his 52-room mansion.

Morton’s politics stressed both conservatism and conservation, a marriage less common in these times. He saw people as earth’s trustees – if we take care of our natural resources, they will take care of us.

Born in Nebraska, Arbor Day is now celebrated in all 50 states and around the world.

Nebraska is currently home to 108 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 1.2 million people. The largest Tree City USA in Nebraska is Omaha, population 440,691; the smallest is Julian, population 71.

Three of Nebraska’s neighbors in the Great Plains are also celebrating today.

Iowa, to the east, is currently home to 87 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 1.4 million people. The largest Tree City USA in Iowa is Des Moines, population 190,000; the smallest is Westphalia, population 160.

Kansas, to Nebraska’s immediate south, is currently home to 104 Tree City USA communities, accounting for nearly two million people. The largest Tree City USA in Kansas is Wichita, population 346,000; the smallest is Formoso, population 100.

And, South Dakota, to the north, is currently home to 36 Tree City USA communities, accounting for about half a million people. The largest Tree City USA in South Dakota is Sioux Falls, population 157,937; the smallest is Buffalo Gap, population 125.

Image courtesy of the Nebraska Department of Roads.