In 2007 as a, newly elected Mayor, my community was working on a Comprehensive Plan. As it sounds, a comprehensive plan covers everything in a community. One of the key items I focused on was our parks, trails and natural areas. I have always viewed these as more than just sound environmental or recreational policy but as economic development keys. A community that has a good park and recreation department is more attractive for companies to relocate or for entrepreneurs to open new businesses. Additional businesses diversify the tax base and keep taxes lower while improving the community.
An important aspect of protecting natural areas and wildlife is connecting woodlands, fields, lakes, rivers and more to each other. My community was growing fast and many natural areas were disappearing due to development. We needed to preserve natural areas and make sure they would be linked to other wildlife habitats.
The key was establishing wildlife corridors. A wildlife corridor is a strip of natural habitat connecting populations of wildlife otherwise separated by farms, roads, housing, etc. These passages allow the safe movement of fauna from one region to another. We focused on preserving strips of land in future developments to allow for wildlife corridors. That was the easy part. The hard part was finding the most viable ways to work with existing neighborhoods and community infrastructure that allows the safe movement of wildlife through a city. We leveraged our existing stormwater system, which had a significant amount of land and right of ways, dedicated to controlling water runoff and tied this to several existing streams and adjacent land to create our first wildlife corridor system.
The important lesson is to try and put the protection of wildlife and habitat at the forefront of planning. It is much easier to have these systems designed into the process upfront than to try and come in after and force a solution. We used our wildlife corridors and all of the natural areas we developed for education and recreation.
Low impact trails were developed throughout to allow pedestrian travel as a way to get community buy-in to wildlife corridors and to secure funding. This allowed for the preservation and rehabilitation of wildlife habitat.
The education part was perhaps the most rewarding. We partnered with our local school district to create an outdoor classroom for biology lessons.
Having added dozens of miles of trails and increased open parkland by 67% is a testament to what one community can accomplish. Wildlife corridors are the key that unlocks new habitat.