I love public lands. So, I have a lot of hometown pride in a community that has chosen to enter that arena by developing a recreational trail system. When I come home and visit the Lehigh Portland trails, it’s always a treat. The investment the community has made in this trail system is smart and intriguing to young professionals like me.
That being said, trail systems are long-term investments. I do not often advocate from an economic perspective when it comes to public lands because I find it difficult to put a value on such features, but it serves a purpose here. The funding it takes to develop a trail and continue improvements — like bridges and other human-welcoming structures — is hard to build and maintain. However, the outdoor recreation industry is booming. This means new small businesses specializing in outdoor recreation. This means job growth. This means tourism revenue. Southeast Kansas, and Iola particularly, can continue to reap these economic benefits if the community protects its investment at Lehigh Portland. When the community gets involved, it plays its role to protect this investment and to make maintaining funding a steady and worthwhile feat.
Thus, trails systems are also meaningful investments — they take time and effort from many players. Intergenerational equity is an economic and sociologic concept that involves planning to preserve something for the benefit of future generations. The concept is often applied in analyses to conserve human-used resources: land, water, timber, etc. Intergenerational equity acts as a bridge between generations: here, between those using trails now, to those who will use trails in the future. I’m a good example from a generation of young Iolans that moved away for school, work, and school again. When I consider where I want to move to pursue my career, a community with outdoor recreational opportunities is important to me. A community making progressive investments is important to me. I would spend time protecting such investments — I would act as a bridge to protect public lands for future generations. Community trail users play a role to preserve the systems they frequent for future generations.
Soon there will be a literal bridge that provides additional access to the Lehigh Portland trail system. This means a larger human footprint left in the area. Preserving public lands takes community effort. Trail stewardship is an important habit for trail users to form and is needed already to preserve Lehigh Portland. Being a trail steward is as simple as stopping to pick up a piece of trash, sweeping brush off the path, etc., even though you were not the person or element that caused it to be there. These small acts compound to protect the trail for future users in the immediate and long-term. For those who feel called to a higher level of stewardship when you visit the trails — i.e. hauling away a couch and box fan dumped at a trailhead parking lot and the impetus for this letter —thank you for your efforts.
It takes a community to rise above those who do not leave trails better than they found them, those who are not protecting this investment. My challenge to the Iola and surrounding community is this: practice trail stewardship. Be a trail steward. Even if that’s picking up one piece of trash every visit, it’s a big step and an important step for you to take. Next step: loop a small plastic bag through your belt loop to allow for a few more pieces of trash and empty at the nearest trash can. My challenge extends to the high school and college running teams. You are often the first and most common trail users and your help is key. Embracing the “trail sweep” role and mentality is a rite of passage.
To wrap up, Iola has a lot going for it, including its public land opportunities. I would love to see the community:
1. Continue making smart, long-term, meaningful investments, and
2. Practice intergenerational equity to protect those investments. Let’s keep those trails looking great. This will attract young professionals like me to call it home.
Happy trails always,
(Editor’s note: Brecken is on schedule to graduate from Washburn School of Law this spring with an emphasis on natural resources. She is the daughter of Lonnie and Stephanie Larson of Iola.)
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