Allen County Kansas has been awarded the prestigious “Culture of Health” prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest health philanthropy. The prize is based on Allen County’s efforts to improve the health of their community. Trails are a big part of Building a Rural Bicycle-Friendly Community as part of an overall strategy for improving the physical and economic health of residents.
Ten years ago, Allen County had no trails. Today, it boasts a greater variety of trail miles per capita than anywhere in Kansas — more than twenty miles of trails, with more being added each year. The trail network has increased resident’s access to recreational opportunities and to nature, diversified the transportation options, and aided in recruiting and retaining businesses, while offering the potential for increased tourism. In 2017, Iola received some statewide accolades, when it was voted the Top Trail Town in Kansas. [Read more: Learning to Thrive through a Culture of Health]
The first trail to come to Allen County was the Prairie Spirit Trail, reaching Iola in 2008. The Prairie Spirit Trail was a state project, through the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, but all of the subsequent trail projects have been initiated, built, and maintained by the people of Allen County.
With the Prairie Spirit Trail extension in 2012, the Southwind Rail Trail opening in 2013, the Missouri Pacific Recreational Trail opening in 2015, and the Lehigh Portland Trails opening in 2016, as well as a signage project, trail arches, a Complete Streets policy, and a new bridge on tap, Allen County has been extremely aggressive in investing in trails and active transportation.
It’s no secret why. Allen County has a vision of being the healthiest rural county in Kansas, and trails are a critial element of making that a reality. As explained by Thrive Allen County in 2015 (Allen County Trail System Vision):
Why are trails important for Allen County?
- Trails are good for our health.
- Trails increase property values.
- Trails make communities more attractive to prospective residents.
- Trails mean tourism.
It’s not just Allen County, either. Anderson County has an active “Friends of the Prairie Spirit Trail” group. In Franklin County, the Franklin County Ks Cycling group and the Ottawa Cycling Club are leading the charge to make their community more bicycle friendly. They’re building their own Cultures of Health, with the Prairie Spirit Trail a central element in their plans.
The Prairie Spirit Trail, called a “crazy dream” by both early supporters and detractors, launched this amazing journey back when it was begun in 1992. It continues to inspire and motivate people to be active and improve their lives.