Nearly 30 people gathered at Fairbury Jr./Sr. High School on Sunday to discuss the prospects of building a walk/bike trail in the community and the potential benefits of having one.
After almost six hours of discussion and planning, the members of the community decided on a course of action that could lead the trail plan to fruition. Jeremy Grandstaff, Process Architect for the Nebraska Walkable Communities Initiative, facilitated the event. He explained that community action is what will help this plan to progress.
“We walked out of today’s conversation with not only a clear understanding of the clear opportunities and challenges that faced Fairbury, when it comes to walking, biking and overall health, but with clear action plans that the group prioritized,” said Grandstaff. “There was lots of energy in the room, and so I would say, overall, things went extremely well!”
The group was composed of many community members, business leaders, school officials and representatives of the City of Fairbury. This summit was organized, in part, by Jefferson Community Health Center, Fairbury Public Schools and Public Health Solutions as a result of an initiative from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote health and wellness in communities. Fairbury is one of 10 communities that are hosting similar discussions to develop trails that will promote healthy lifestyles.
“Having the ability to hear from the community and to bring stakeholders from the community into this conversation is a way to create that long-term cultural change,” Grandstaff said. “These guys started that conversation today for Fairbury, and got very close to finishing it because they put the action plans together.”
Grandstaff explained that the planning committee will utilize the input from Sunday’s meeting to reach out to the community for engagement on this issue and to continue progressing. They are looking forward to generating even more interest in the project.
“The team will look at all of the information they gathered and look for more ways the community can get involved,” said Grandstaff. “The beauty of what we did today is that it synthesizes that the community cares very much about safety, health and infrastructure, and the things that they need to do to engage people in the community and people in the surrounding communities. That says that they are thinking very holistically about how they do this. This community really positioned itself that it can overcome resistance it might face, and can work on making connections. It’s about the community and where they want to go and about how they can get there.”
The group agreed that there would be many benefits to having a trail in Fairbury, whether it was to promote safety for children walking to school, to attracting more young people to move to the community.
Julie Harris, Executive Director of the Nebraska Biking Alliance, spoke at the summit to discuss how Fairbury can be a leader for other communities when it comes to developing a trail and promoting health.
“Fairbury’s comprehensive plan is amazing,” Harris said. “It really contains everything you’d want it to have in it to increase the number of people who walk and bike, increasing safety and making a better trail system. It supports all of the goals that came out of the meeting with today’s group.”
Harris believes that Fairbury is unique in that many people live within walking distance of their jobs. She supports the idea that more people should take advantage of that.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to get people walking or biking to work,” said Harris. “We always advocate for that. It’s not something you have to make a choice to do every day. On a nice day, it’s just great to consider walking, and there’s a big opportunity here to do that. If we make it safe for people, they will be more likely to do it.”
The group will continue to develop the plan and to ask for engagement from the community so that the citizens have more opportunities to provide input. Harris believes that it is very important for this process to continue, because of the potential results.
“We want our community to be healthier,” Harris said. “It’s important because, if we’re not really intentional about walking and biking in our cities, our lives tend to revolve around the automobile, which is a quality of life issue. In a great city like Fairbury, that’s not the quality of life we want; we want our communities to be based around people, not around cars.
“I just think this is a great way to make the city better for walking and biking,” Harris continued. “It brings more young professionals and families to town because that is what they are looking for. It helps with economic development and with tourism. You’ve got great parks and green space here in Fairbury, so this can help bring in a lot of people from out of town. It can solve a lot of different problems besides just health. I just encourage everyone to give it a try.”