Heritage Trail Setting A Healthy Example

Wheeling is showing the rest of West Virginia the state can be a much healthier place.

At the West Virginia State Trail Conference at Oglebay Park on Wednesday, those in attendance seem to agree: The answer to the state’s health problem is a well-designed trail system.

Several dozen trail and government officials from all over the Mountain State gathered in the Glessner Auditorium of Oglebay’s Wilson Lodge to learn about how Wheeling’s Heritage Trail will have a hand in developing the city into a “Healthy Lifestyle Community.”

“This convention provides hardy (information) for these people here to take back to their communities and looks at what Wheeling did to show what other cities would want to do,” said Bill Robinson, State Trail coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the conference’s host.

“These visitors from all over the state will return with a positive reaction to Wheeling and Oglebay, and hopefully will return seeing what Wheeling and Oglebay have to offer with their trails,” added R. “Scat” Scatterday, manager and project engineer for the Wheeling-Ohio County Rails to Trails.

Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie, honoring the trail efforts by wearing a fluorescent “Trail Ambassador” vest over his shirt and tie, kicked off the conference promptly at 8 a.m. with a few words.

“What’s unique is that every part of Wheeling is connected by a trail,” he said. “The trails bring the community together and create a healthy lifestyle community.”

Robinson introduced Dr. William Mercer, Wheeling-Ohio County health officer, as the first speaker.

His short presentation focused on the Wheeling Walks program, which was built on advertising better health and good exercise to local residents.

He touched on the use of paid media to encourage healthier activity, physicians to issue “prescriptions for exercise” and events geared to get people outdoors and moving around.

Mercer cited a handful of statistics showing West Virginia is at the top of many poor health rankings among the states. Some of these include the highest percentage of cigarette users, greatest number of heart-related illnesses and a No. 1 rank in obesity.

“Some time ago, Huntington was named the unhealthiest city, and the trails will hopefully have an effect on that,” said Mercer.

At 8:30 a.m., Robinson brought Dan Burden, founder of The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Inc., to the podium.

According to the Institute’s official website, he is an internationally recognized authority on bicycle and pedestrian facilities and programs, livability, sustainability and Smart Growth.

Burden’s presentation described such topics as finance, sustainability, good health and economic effects of a city trail system.

Not only did he add to Mercer’s comments that a trail would lift West Virginia from unfavorable health rankings, but also a trail would improve the total social infrastructure.

“We must look at trails as ‘economic engines,'” Burden said. “Trails give us one of the absolute best returns in investment. If we want healthy people, a healthy planet and healthy prosperity, we must invest in an urban sustainability program.”

Following the presentation, Scatterday led a bike tour, taking conference guests along the Heritage Trail’s eastbound extension starting at Heritage Port and traveling to the trail’s end near Parkview.

The West Virginia Cycling Foundation sponsored a reception from 8-11 p.m. in the Glessner Auditorium.

The conference continues today with additional presentations at Wilson Lodge and four field trips hosted by Scatterday.