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At least I have my trail

I'm to speak at the Connecting Communities Trails Symposium at Chicago State University on Wednesday, Jan. 26. It's an event organized by Friends of the Parks, and I'm up at 4:50 PM to talk about trail development as a potent tactic within an economic development strategy.

I will rock that. You would too, actually, because even though I'd like to say it takes Richard Feynman-like insight to make that connection, it's closer to the Cookie-Monster-wants-cookie end of Eureka! moments. People have money, people use trails; therefore, the guy selling tall cans of Pabst out of a cooler trailside will make bank. I think I just unified gravity with quantum theory!

It comes across as intelligent because most people don't visualize trails as giant vacuum tubes sucking money out of user's wallets and credit card balances. Which they are, and do. No, people think of trails and get distracted by trees, for instance, and fresh air.

Not me. Not Mister Smart Trails Guy. That's why I'm speaking at 4:50 PM.

But here's some irony. I get Google feeds about trails from all over Illinois and the Midwest. I read a newspaper post about a trails plan down by East St. Louis, and glance through the comments.

Disgust, disbelief, frustration. Expressed by people who don't want trails (even though their county voted in a tax increase through referendum to pay for them). About 2/3 referenced the sorry state of Illinois' economy in their argument against trail development.

The economy, stupids?

I hypothesized long and hard how I would parry such an argument, running through trails' deep and broad impact on the local economies along the Fox River, the Plank Road Trail, and the entire state of Wisconsin. Some good ones, too. With jargon, even.

Then one emerged that flattened the countryside around it. It's set up like this:

How many of you have heard someone down on his luck say, At least I have my health.

How many times have you said that in the last three years?

The Man (or the Lehman) can take everything else; good health is the thing we hope we have left when opportunity is closed down, laid off, and repossessed. No matter one's personal wealth, good health is never consciously offered as collateral or bartered away. You'll trade the Hope Diamond before you'll give up your low cholesterol count. You'll trade your 3G iPad before your normal blood pressure and healthy blood sugar levels.

I've said before that the Calumet-Sag Trail will be a 4+ million square-foot health club, with no membership fee, open to all. But I didn't really get the value proposition until I read those comments and beat my Muppet brain within an inch of crying Mercy! trying to counter them.

We will squander or sacrifice every possession we have and still pick ourselves up by recognizing and appreciating our good health. Good health has to be there to make this work. It is central to our self-worth. Fundamental to good health is the infrastructure and habits that enable and maintain it. An investment in health infrastructure is an investment in People's Ability to Cope.

Public dollars, obligated to the best and highest use by law (if not practice), will find few worthy uses higher up the hill than that. I am not saying divert money from economic development to pay for trails. I am definitely wondering how to protect trail money from lower, lesser uses. And definitely thinking differently about the value trails create.

My title for my presentation, Trails Are Fat Money Pipes of Money, is sounding superficial, and I've only a day to figure it out before I speak. Anyone got Feynman's number?