Saratoga Springs already has a lot going for it, and will have a lot more if it creates a proposed Greenbelt Trail, a 10-mile loop encircling the city and connecting three existing bike-hike paths as well as downtown. A trail like this, which could be used not just by bicyclists and walkers but by runners, cross-country skiers and snowshoers, would improve the city's quality of life and health and well being of its residents, adding further to its attractiveness.
The plan is being driven by a coalition of local organizations including Saratoga PLAN, a land trust that works for sustainability and open space protection in the Saratoga region, and the YMCA, which in 2006 relocated from downtown to a new building out of the way and wants to make it easier for people to walk or bike there.
This isn't a novel idea. As Jeff Olson, a consultant for the coalition says, projects like this are being planned or constructed all over the country. In Saratoga County, the town of Clifton Park in recent years has successfully linked residential neighborhoods with community attractions like the YMCA, school and library, and is looking to do more.
These paths represent a hunger for nature, physical activity and safe transportation that does not rely on the car -- all of which are in short supply in the auto-dependent, sidewalk-less suburbs. In a place where a growing number of children are obese, they are a way to burn calories and shed pounds. In a place where kids depend on their parents to drive them everywhere, they provide a measure of independence.
But it's not just the suburbs. The same factors are at work in cities like Saratoga, where the middle school is located outside of town along a busy road and the district, in a case that made national news a few years ago, wouldn't even allow a teenager who wanted to pedal there to do so.
The Greenbelt Trail, which Saratoga PLAN is prepared to seek donations and grants for, will take care of such situations. It will also connect the outlying trails and neighborhoods to downtown -- using striped and signed city streets to bring walkers and cyclists, adults as well as children, to Congress Park, the library and the various businesses there. Other cities, such as Schenectady, which has a number of trails on the edge of downtown (including a new but unmarked greenway that runs from Central Park through Vale Park to Nott Terrace), need to create the same kind of consciousness and connectivity.