When it comes to nature trails, Brian Rushing of The University of Alabama says there is room for lots of growth in the state.
Rushing, who works for the school’s Center for Economic Development as its Director of Economic Development Initiatives, has been helping organize the 2020 Alabama Recreational Trails Conference with the volunteer Alabama Trails Commission. The meetings will be at the Gulf State Park Lodge, Feb. 5 – 7. He hopes government officials and trail enthusiasts from around the state will attend to gain a better understanding of the economic impact trails have, while they also increase tourism.
“Alabama has incredible natural resources; we’ve got a diverse landscape,” Rushing said. “We’ve got more navigable miles of streams than any state in the country. We’ve got a lot of really great trail facilities and right now we’re over 3,000 miles of trails of various kinds, but there still is a lot of untapped potential that Alabama has. We dedicate a lot of our time working with communities on getting them to develop this infrastructure and get plugged into the outdoor recreation market.”
One of the conference’s main themes will be how linking various trails can improve systems around the state.
“At this conference, we’re focusing quite a bit on connectivity of trails and making sure that within communities and in between communities we have multi-use trails and side trails that are connecting people between where they live, work, play and worship,” Rushing said. “We’re still a bit behind the curve in Alabama with respect to the trail connectivity, both long distances between communities as well as within communities.”
Feb. 5 is an optional day giving the attendees the chance to get out and explore some trails in South Baldwin County from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
“There will be three field trips where folks will go out and actually go on different trails, learn about how they were planned, designed, built and how they are operated,” Rushing said. “Those will be kind of in Gulf State Park as well as on the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail. We’re also going to be going out on one of the trips to Bon Secour Refuge and we have another mobile workshop that will be paddling several sections of the Orange Beach Canoe Trail.”
On Feb. 6, there will be a general session during the morning with four speakers covering a variety of topics. The morning session on Feb. 7 will have three sessions before the conference closes at noon.
“The plenary sections I think we’ve got a lot of important information that will benefit everybody regardless of the trail type they typically have to deal with,” Rushing said. “There’s some overarching things we want to touch on in the plenary session.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 6, attendees will have the option of picking from 12 breakout sessions focusing on individual, successful trail projects from around the state as well as planning and designing new trail systems.
In the past, the commission has met every two years, but this is the first statewide conference since 2014.
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