Trails Calculator

Overview: Generating economic information about the cost/benefit ratio of investments in trails and trail systems are typically costly and inaccessible propositions that are not readily available to park planners, agencies, elected officials or others who would be in the best position to use the resulting information. 

The Trails Calculator is a free, public online calculator that will be used to make the economic case for trail development by estimating the health care value and benefits as it relates to the cost required to plan, design and build it.

By providing information regarding the averted medical costs of a trail, the Trails Calculator will provide people with a useful, simple, accessible tool they can apply to estimate cost/benefit ratios for their projects. In so doing, the Calculator will provide a cost-effective and consistent way to elevate motivations for trail investments at various scales.

Background: The idea for the Trails Calculator was catalyzed in the Spring of 2019 with SHIFT’s development of the workshop for its fall program, “Quantifying the Health Care Cost Savings of Outdoor Recreation.”

The workshop highlighted two SHIFT Award Official Selections, one from Oregon, and the other from Brownsville, Texas, that quantified the cost savings of physical activity.

Moderated by Tania Briceno, PhD, the lead economist with Conservation Strategy Fund, the workshop paired Dr. Randy Rosenberger and Tara Pesterfield, co-developers of the Oregon Health Estimator Tool, and Dr. Henry Brown, who led the Brownsville study, with Terry Bergerson, the Outdoor Recreation Planner with Oregon State Parks, and Eva Garcia, the Project Manager of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan, to examine how communities used the results of the economic analyses to make stronger arguments for their initiatives. 

The workshop was predicated on the assumption that planners, policy makers and elected officials alike need economic arguments to advance investments in health-related infrastructure and programs. Panelists reviewed existing tools and economic data to create stronger economic framing and arguments for different types of applications.

Following the workshop, Dr. Briceno, Dr. Brown and Dr. Rosenberger continued to work with SHIFT Executive Director Christian Beckwith to determine the scope of the project, identify partners, select the Principal Investigators and develop the exact metrics to be included in the Calculator.

Project development phases are as follows.

Phase I – (Initiated at The 2019 SHIFT Festival)

Key Elements /Deliverables

  • (completed) Identify principal investigators and core partners
  • (completed) Develop Trails Calculator concept paper
  • (completed) Identify primary health outcomes and trail system/user metrics to be studied/evaluated
  • Recruit additional trails and public health partners
  • Refine Scope of the project with partner agreement
  • Identify funding sources to advance the project into Phase II

Phase II

Key Elements /Deliverables

  • Identify and secure graduate level research assistants to help develop the project and conduct research and literature reviews.
  • Secure funding to complete beta test, adjustment and distribution of Trails Calculator
  • Complete necessary research to advance the Trails Calculator
  • Begin development of Trails Calculator, preliminary applications  

Phase III

Key Elements /Deliverables

  • Beta-test Trails Calculator at locations across the country. Utilize national trails organization partners to pilot test Trails Calculator at a number of locations TBD
  • Results Analysis and Trails Calculator revisions, modifications
  • Peer Review of Trails Calculator 

Phase IV

Key Elements / Deliverables

  •  National Distribution of Trails Calculator 
    •  Media Outreach Plan
    •  National Conference Presentation Strategies
  • Trails Calculator Tool Management
    • Collecting Case Studies of successful application
    • Revisions and Updating
    • Identifying long-term manager

What type of info will the Trails Calculator produce: Total and incremental health benefits estimates based on dollars per MET (metabolic equivalent, a metric used by exercise physiologists to estimate the number of calories burned during physical activity) and projected use levels and intensities. 

Where will the Trails Calculator live: TBD. The calculator, when done, will be free and in the public domain

Who would use the Trails Calculator: Anyone who builds trails or are involved in trails—elected officials, school districts, land and recreation managers, health care providers. The calculator would also provide total health benefits that could be used in political discussions, budget allocations, grant writing, and public information.

Rocket Fuel