It's been a quiet January on the Trail Talk blog. Once you get past reflections on the past year's accomplishments and dreaming of what we can achieve in 2011, you get back to the reality that it's winter. It's a time for transitioning from holiday mode back to the daily grind. It's a time for staying inside where it's warm and not outside where it's was cold and ICY for much of the month. It's not been a time to think much about trails.
Which is why I was excited when the Covington Lions Club invited me to be guest speaker at their January 13 meeting. And, lucky for me, when snow and ice forced cancellation, they invited me back last night, January 27.
Of all the things we do as advocates for trails and greenways, nothing is more important than the simple act of talking with our friends and neighbors. We often assume everyone sees the same vision we do, but the reality is that dialog is what leads to understanding. That's why I was so happy to discuss the reasons that I personally -- and Newton Trails as a community-focused organization -- believe trails and greenways are a great investment for Newton County. We talked about health benefits, transportation needs, economic impact, property value stabilization, greenspace preservation, and the conserving of our history and heritage.
I'm grateful to the Lions for giving me that opportunity, for being great hosts, and for joining me in a lively, friendly chat about something that matters much to me. It was a fun night, and I hope a productive one. It was just what I needed to get reenergized and refocused on what we need to accomplish with trailbuilding in Newton County this year.
I encourage each of you to find times and places where you can have such conversations with your friends and neighbors. And, if there's ever a chance I can join you, please let me know.
They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known.
That opening from Billy Joel's song Summer Highland Falls sticks with me. I'm not sure what Billy meant to convey, but the lyric reinforces my belief there's nothing to be gained by dwelling on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. These may turn out to be good times or bad times years from now, in some historian's rear view mirror. But, for me, they are only my times. And, whether by divine purpose or simply the hand of fate, here and now is my one ride on the merry go round.
I thought about "these times" often this past week, as we all do, reading story after story about the monumental challenges facing federal, state, and local leaders as they wrestle with shrinking revenues, reduced budgets, and a stagnant economy. Good or bad, one thing is certain: these are tough times. They are tough times for families to make ends meet, and they are tough times to advocate investments in our future.... such as a trail system.
But, saying these are "my times" is not just acknowledging the luck of the draw. It's about ownership. It's believing we take the cards we are dealt and we play the very best hand we can. And, I believe, even in times like these, the winning hand is the one that builds a foundation for better days we hope and/or believe lie ahead. Good things do not come to those who wait. They come to those who create a world in which good things are inevitable.
Following the Dec 7 vote by the Newton County Board of Commissioners authorizing a grant request for the Eastside Trail that may require $100,000 in matching funds, I had a frank discussion with a fellow citizen. This gentleman was clearly troubled by this action and felt the timing was all wrong in light of the county's budget woes. While he accepted that trails might foster economic development to benefit the county, his analogy was basically that this was no time to go elephant hunting, when we needed to save our nuts to feed the hungry.
I took his argument to heart. But, I countered with my view. The problem now is there simply are not enough nuts to feed everyone. Our explosive population growth and the skew towards a residential tax base -- with too little revenue to fund basic services and not enough good jobs to go around -- has put our county in a bad place. We cannot rely on our available store of nuts to feed us until better days are here. We must act now to foster economic development and attract commercial and industrial business to our community. (I was pleased to see that, despite all the challenges he faces, our new Governor has put economic development at the top of his short list of protected funding. It's a tough sell in a down economy, but it truly is our only hope.)
Trails are not magic. A 10-foot-wide strip of concrete won't change the world, nor will it reverse our economic fortunes over night. But, they are an important element in an overall economic development strategy to right our tax base and generate new revenue streams for our local economy. The tourism impact of walking/biking trails is well documented across the nation. And, increasingly communities are using greenway trails as a lifestyle draw for major new industries. Chattanooga recently landed a $1B investment from Volkswagen of America that will create more than 2,200 new jobs. And, part of their package to close the deal was a major park and trail system the city and county built on the site of the new industrial park. In a competitive landscape, these are the things that set one location apart from another. These are the indicators that tell a potential new industry that they can recruit and retain professional talent in one community better than in another.
Yes, these are tough times. But, they are my times and they are your times. May we continue doing that which much be done to bring us once again to good times.