The Ottumwa Courier

January 9, 2013

Trails ‘a step in the right direction’

Loebsack participates in discussion about developing a system in Monroe County

Courier Staff Writer

ALBIA — Participants in a Tuesday meeting agreed that Monroe County had a lot to offer potential residents. But a good trail system, they told their new congressman, is vital.

Having an accessible trail system has drawn members of the community together to form a Monroe County Trails Committee. For one thing, people who have a place to walk can do one of the exercises nearly everyone can participate in.

And more healthy options fit in with the local hospital’s goals of encouraging a more health-conscious population.

“Our focus will probably begin to shift, to be based on keeping people out of the hospital,” said Shauna Griffin, communication manager at Monroe County Hospital.

That means efforts from the hospital need to include a little less attention on fixing people after they get sick and “more on wellness,” said Griffin.

She said a good, safe trail system “would be a step in the right direction.”

But it’s not just good for people who already live in the Albia area, committee members told  U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack.

The congressman said he understood.

“Outdoor recreation is important for psychological health, as well as physical health,” said Loebsack. “But it’s also an economic development issue.”

That’s right, said Jim Keller, one of the organizers of Monroe County’s “Welcome Home Soldier” monument.

He told Loebsack that he lives locally because he has chosen the county as home. But young professionals looking for work have their choice of where they’re going to live.

“The one thing the young people want is recreation,” Keller said.

Juanita Murphy, the county zoning administrator, agreed.

“Trails are one of the things they look at,” she said.

Even if they’ve already chosen where they’ll work, like one of the skilled jobs at the bio-tech plants in Eddyville, they can move to Albia, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, and, with the faster four-lane, Pella. While Albia has lots to offer, they said, a proper trail system throughout the county is not something they have.

Murphy said in order to attract new residents, “we need some of those amenities.”

Loebsack said he knows recreation isn’t a magic solution guaranteed to bring in more residents and businesses. But it can be a contributing factor.

 “For folks to come into a community, it’s important [because] it can be a draw,” he said, adding that it’s one of the life quality issues that acts as an incentive for people considering Monroe County as their home.

It’s also a safety issue, the committee members told Loebsack because walkers have to step out onto busy streets.

The last time Loebsack was in Albia, a bad knee kept him from going for a run. But he did do a four-mile walk, he said. So he has seen the places that would be connected by a trail system.

He said funding for a trail system in Monroe County would probably be best sought at the state level. The U.S. government provides money for states to distribute as they see fit. If there is federal money for community trails, Loebsack would be willing to help.

“What I can do [most] at the federal level is continue to get funding [for states],” he said.