DES MOINES — Iowa trails supporters and business leaders called on the Legislature to consider all opportunities to invest in trails, including Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
“The governor is out there in a big way,” driving a plan for investment in trails, Brandi Horton of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy said at a rally on the Capitol steps Thursday morning.
“We don’t want to lose this opportunity,” Horton said about the governor’s plan to provide a dedicated funding stream of up to $171 million annually for water quality, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation, including “significant and sustainable” money for trails.
Horton — joined by representatives of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, state departments of Public Health and Economic Development, AARP, Bike World and Iowa River’s Edge — praised Iowa’s 2,000 miles of multiuse trails.
A trails conservancy’s analysis found that Iowa’s trails have a $1.09 billion economic impact — $657 million in direct spending and $453 million in health care costs avoided.
In addition to the money trail users spend on food and lodging, Forrest Ridgway of Bike World talked about the jobs created and the taxes paid.
His three business locations in Ames, Urbandale and West Des Moines pay about $150,000 a year in taxes, Ridgeway said, and he attributes much of his business — and taxes — to Iowa’s trail system.
Funding for trails “is not an expense, but something we invest in,” he said.
It’s not just the economic impact, said Andrea Boulton of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
Iowans want to create “vibrant, people-focused places to live. Funding the outdoor trust would provide an opportunity to create those places,” she said.
“We’ve waited 10 years” since voters approved the creation of the trust, Boulton said.
The fate of Reynolds’ proposal is unknown, but Rep. Andy McKean, D-Anamosa, called trail funding rural economic development.
For too long, he said, Iowa has “chased smokestacks” and awarded questionable tax credits “instead of investing in what keeps people in Iowa,” such as quality-of-life projects.
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