Trails are infrastructure, exactly like roads. With no dedicated source of funding, how will we build them?

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Billings Public Works Director, Dave Mumford and Billings TrailNet’s Executive Director, Kristi Drake, presented a solution to the trail funding shortfall to City Council on Monday, Oct. 1.
They asked City Council to consider asking all households in the Billings community to pay $24 per year to a trail fund, which could generate approximately $1 million per year, and would help overcome the 82% shortfall in trail funding.

City Council asked Public Works and Billings TrailNet to return to a regular Council meeting with a concrete proposal for adding a $2 optional trail contribution for Billings residents’ utility bills, with facts and data to support the benefits of opting OUT versus opting IN programs.

During Public Comment, supporters came forward and provided City Council with compelling stories and observations about the benefits of the trails.

Trails support business, economic development and tourism

Scott Brown, owner of The Base Camp, emphasized the importance of the trail system to his businesses in Billings and Helena, and provided impressive data about how outdoor recreation generates more than $7 billion in Montana; provides 70,000 jobs and an increased quality of life for its residents. He said his business thrives from the urban trails, where people use outdoor gear such as shoes and jogging strollers.

Building trails provides a sense of PLACE and building a connected trail system is positive momentum for our city in transition

Steve Arveschough, Executive Director of Big Sky Economic Development, endorsed Scott’s statement and further explained that the trail funding proposal is a tremendous opportunity to distinguish our community with its quality trail system. He said that it is important for a community to invest in itself. “Investment in quality of place is in keeping with modern economic development theory,” he said.  Steve urged City Council to give the proposal the green light, as “it will distinguish our community in an important way,” he concluded.

Trails provide safe transportation for all people

Darell Tunicliff asserted that the trail system is an important part of our community’s infrastructure and that it is “not reasonable to rely on a nonprofit (such as Billings TrailNet) to fund it.” He added that the trail system provides safety for people walking, running and biking.

Billings TrailNet board member, Kathy Aragon, also emphasized the safety aspect. “We have several trails in the City of Billings, all across town, that link neighborhoods to schools,” she said. “They allow children to walk and bike without risking life and limb in the process. They minimize street crossing where kids have been hit walking to and from schools.”

Audrey Wagner, a south side resident, talked about how she rides most everywhere in Billings. Where there are fairly few trails in her neighborhood, she would like to see more connections and would gladly pay for facilities that keep her safe from traffic as she rides to work and errands. “I’m willing to invest,” she continued. “When we do better, we all do better.”

Karla Mahan presented a heart-wrenching story of her husband’s crash with a pickup truck while the two were bicycling across an intersection in Billings last August. She stressed the importance of having adequate trails to keep people away from traffic, and asked City Council to find a way to fund the trails.

Trails give people easy access to recreation and transportation

Steve Shandera, a Billings TrailNet member and founding member of Yellowstone River Parks Association (YRPA), said he moved to Billings more than 30 years ago and back then, saw the need to increase access to recreation. His grown children, who have since moved away from Billings, now return home and express their surprise and pleasure at the advances Billings has made in creating a quality lifestyle for its residents.

Trails are often a visitor’s first impression of Billings, and an attractive feature for people considering making Billings home

Billings TrailNet board member Tim Pellandini talked about his work at St. Vincent Healthcare, and said that as he recruits employees to Billings, they ask about Billings’ access to recreation before they commit to relocating here.

Trails are vital infrastructure

Ed Gulick, a small business owner and chairman of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, rides a bicycle almost exclusively, year-round and summed up the testimonies by noting that “trails are infrastructure, exactly like roads,” he said, and asked “if you decide not to pass this, what is our plan for completing the trails?”

Others in the audience who spoke about the importance of the trail funding proposal included Jerry Kessler, chairman of the Pioneer Park Task Force, Bruce Kelling, a small business owner (of Big Shrimpy Pet Beds), Tom Rupsis, who is a member of the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery board, Scott Atwood, a small business owner (of Atwood Architecture), Dan Brooks, Business Advocacy Manager at the Billings Chamber of Commerce, Jeremy Vannatta, Managing Director of Marketing & Communications at PayneWest Insurance.  Also in the audience to support the proposal were Steve Madsen, a corporate member of Billings TrailNet and owner of Overhead Door of Southern Montana; Jane Van Dyke, a member of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee; and most of the board of directors of Billings TrailNet, Steve Hudak, Kevin Odenthal, Jim Downs and Mike Ormsby.

Billings City Council received many letters from organizations and individuals in support of adding an optional $2 contribution to their utility bills. See them here.