The introduction of a “TRACK Trail” program on Mount Airy’s two greenways is meeting its goals of getting young people outdoors to learn about nature, based on a new report.
TRACK Trails comprise a network around the country totaling more than 130 locations in all, including the Ararat River and Emily B. Taylor greenways in Mount Airy.
These are specially designated kid-friendly sites that share two common goals. One is to combat childhood obesity by providing a way for youths to be more active, while the other involves addressing a condition known as Nature Deficit Disorder by helping them become more connected to the outdoors.
Rather than simply telling kids to go take a hike, the TRACK Trails program allows children to get free prizes by completing a trail. They do so by logging onto an Internet site (at kidsinparks.com) and answering a few questions about their experiences and elements of nature they observed along the way.
The Ararat River Greenway became part of the network in March 2011 and the Emily B. Taylor Greenway was added in June 2013. Each was selected as a Kids in Parks TRACK Trail by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.
Officials of the Kids in Parks program have sought in recent years to install TRACK Trails on and in communities near the Blue Ridge Parkway to encourage young people’s use of such trails in a fun and educational way that also improves physical fitness.
This is accomplished locally through kiosks that are set up at each greenway. The Emily B. Taylor kiosk is located on the trail behind the Roses department store, while the one on the Ararat River Greenway is accessible from H.B. Rowe Environmental Park on Hamburg Street.
They each contain brochures that explain the TRACK Trail program and how to get started, which basically serve to turn an ordinary walk into an adventure.
For example, a brochure on the Taylor greenway — titled “Nature’s Hide & Seek” — encourages children to seek out wildflowers, butterflies, birds, insects such as ants and other species as they negotiate the trail.
“I think it’s really neat,” frequent greenway user Tammy Kay Tate of Mount Airy said Friday after checking out the kiosk while taking a break from cycling the route.
“It helps children take more of an interest in it,” Tate said of the nature aspect of the greenway, “and learn.”
And by registering and describing their hikes on the Website, children can join a Trail TRACKer Team and earn prizes that will help them explore nature and become better trackers.
Usage figures revealed
The recent report from Kids in Parks/TRACK Trail officials shows that out of the 130 total trails, the Ararat River TRACK Trail was the 45th most-registered in 2014 with 11 registrations. The one on the Emily Taylor Greenway was 56th with eight. The average number of registrations per site was 14.
Also, the report notes that 39 individuals have registered a total of 45 hikes since the inception of the program locally, but those figures don’t tell the whole story, according to Kids in Parks Director Jason Urroz.
He referred to a registration rate standard of 3 percent that helps determine total trail usage. It indicates that for every 100 kids who hike a trail, three will follow through and register their hikes on the Website.
Urroz said Friday there might be many reasons why a child will not register a hike, including fears by some parents about divulging children’s names online.
Using the 3 percent rate, the 45 registrations in Mount Airy amount to a total of 1,500 adventures by kids on the local TRACK Trails. Assuming 1,500 children hike 2.2 miles at a 75 percent completion rate, 2,500 miles have been logged here, with related calculations showing they have burned 375,000 calories and spent 1,250 hours outside.
The report further reveals an even larger health-based outcome, considering that most children will be accompanied on a hike by parents or others.
With the average group size at the Mount Airy TRACK Trails put at 3.3 people, this translates into 4,500 adventures by people who so far have hiked 7,500 miles, burned 1.1 million calories and spent 3,750 hours outside.
Figures also show that the average age of TRACK Trail users in Mount Airy is 7.5, and 64 percent were first-time visitors, with 88 percent saying they would return.
Urroz added Friday that some trail users endeavor to visit other sites in the network around the region at places such as state parks and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
He said in a sense, the facilities in Mount Airy can be viewed as “two greenways that are connected to other types of natural resources.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.