Monday, June 9, 2008

Bruce: National Trails Day

Saturday, June 7, was National Trails Day. The Linn County Trails Association, of which I am a member, sponsored a "progressive breakfast" along the Cedar River Trail that runs through Cedar Rapids.

I went out early on Saturday morning to reach the Sokol Park station just after 8. It was sunny and not humid, for a change. Sandy Colton and Ben Dukes were handing out granola bars and water and bananas. It surprised me how many people were riding by, not knowing what was going on, because (a) I didn't realize that many people used The Trail early on Saturday morning, (b) obviously none of them were LCTA members or else they would have known about the breakfast. Someone stopped, and we took her name and e-mail to send her membership info. I was the only one with a pen handy, so I got to trot out my "an educator always carries a pen" story for the hundredth time.

A mile or so north and I was at the Greene Square Park station, which had more people there and more stuff, including coffee and cookies from Brewed Awakenings, and oatmeal in various forms from Quaker Oats. Cedar Rapids City Council member Tom Podzimek was among those staffing the station, ebulliently promoting the event to anyone within earshot, which turned out to be a lot of people. Not only does "earshot of Tom" cover a good deal of territory, but a lot of people were downtown for the first Farmer's Market of the season. "I love this city!" shouted Tom to a young mom pushing a kid in a stroller. "Want some free food? It's from the Trails Association!"

Two more miles got me to McLeod Run Park for the third and final station. They had bagels from Panera, and more bananas, although having had two bananas already I thought I'd done my potassium for the day. I did have a bagel, though. I wonder what my net calorie intake/expenditure was for this hike? Anyway, I got a chance to talk to Ron McGraw, who is LCTA's legislative liaison, and who knows more than anyone else about the status of future trails. Apparently they expect to break ground next year on the CeMar trail, which eventually will connect The Trail (just north of Coe College) to the Marion Parks trail.By now it was starting to get humid again, and McLeod Park was getting buggy, including biting flies. Time to scoot home, which I did. In all I rode about 8 miles, injested about 10,000 calories (maybe an exaggeration), and chatted with numerous fellow trail users.

Conclusions: (1) Trails are public goods. I don't think you can prove the existence of public goods, but the public certainly acts as though the trail is a public good. (2) The temptation to free ride is enormous. Iowa Public Radio estimates that 8 percent of their listeners are members; from my observations Saturday I would say that sounds about right for the LCTA too. The incentives to free ride are obvious. We need to publicize the group, like we did Saturday, and maybe turn the screws of guilt.

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