DURHAM'S TRAIL AND PATHWAY SYSTEM: AMENITY EXTRAORDINAIRE!
Durham today has an extraordinary system of walking and hiking trails and pathways, thanks to the foresight of our town to invest in and support conservation easements as well as land acquisition both by the town itself and by others. And much of the credit for these trails and pathways, especially in recent times, goes to the dedicated work of our town's Land Stewardship Subcommittee and the Town Conservation Commission, building on the early work of the Town Conservation Commission and its historic booklet on Durham's Class VI roads, "Walking Durham: Dedicated to the Fine Art of Foot Travel" (1975), and to the knowledge and dedication of Land Stewardship Coordinator Ellen Snyder and her team of volunteers, young and old.
These Durham trails and paths often offer outstanding opportunity for all aspects of nature study and nature photography in all seasons. And they certainly offer opportunities for physical exercise. So, in these ways, our trails and paths contribute significantly to both the mental well-being and the physical health of the community. But increasingly these same trails and paths offer something else which we less often think about. For increasingly they constitute a system of interconnectivity, including connectivity between neighborhoods, and therefore offer an additional route of transit beyond streets and sidewalks. And as we return more and more to a walking rather than a riding culture, a culture less demanding of fossil fuels, thinking about this kind of amenity value will rise in importance.
The reality of the climate crisis will reduce motorized travel for all but the infirm, as carbon-based fuel becomes less accessible. This is not necessarily a bad thing for we need to walk, and walk, and walk some more, in order to maintain good health, both in body and spirit. And we are increasingly aware that we also need both closeness to nature and the social value that walking brings to us.
Community members have been doing much work on the idea of inter-connected trail networks linking our central business district and more densely settled neighborhoods like Faculty Development (our most densely settled residential neighborhood) with the greater outdoors, even including serious thought about two pedestrian bridges over the Oyster River which vastly improve the systemic possibilities. Outlying residents thus gain greater access to downtown businesses, to schools, and to UNH campus facilities and amenities. At the same time, in-town populations gain greater connectivity to outlying trails and thus connectivity to a much wider range of natural habitats and ecosystems. UNH and its students also gain greatly from this arrangement, with students getting significant access to town conservation lands for exercise, for study, and for the pleasure of the outdoors. And, of course, community members themselves receive enhanced access to university trails, woodland, farmland and open space. UNH students and faculty can benefit as much as community members from such interconnectivity. (This is very important, for university administrators' priority is naturally to the well-being of students more than to townspeople, as it is to the teaching and research needs of faculty than it is to the local citizenry. That being said, town/gown relations are important to both town and gown! The destiny of both town and gown are, in so many ways, tied together as one, and that joint destiny is always worth our investment of both time and effort.)
That investment can be further enhanced as Durham moves into a new era of playing host to retirement communities. This reality will require some new ways of thinking by both town government and community organizations. Durham's system of paths and trails are an important aspect of that new approach to town planning. And a very important way to add value to our homes and businesses, as realtors can attest. Indeed, Durham is a great place to live!
John E. Carroll is a 45 year Durham resident, a member of the Durham Agricultural Commission, and that body's representative to the Land Stewardship Subcommittee. He is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Conservation at UNH.