After 20 years, most people on the north shore take it for granted.
At the time, though, the 31 miles of the Tammany Trace was a major project, involving the complexities of taking over an abandoned rail line, and the original but unsuccessful notion of running a tourist train between Covington and Slidell.
The political difficulties of making the project work are part of its history, including significant leadership from a police juror and later, Parish President Kevin Davis, now the director of the state’s emergency preparedness office. Richard Blossman, who bought the abandoned rail line, agreed to sell it for less than he had paid for it, donating the rest to the parish.
All that should be remembered, although it is probably not known to many of the people who use the Trace today. Those are estimated to be about 300,000 visitors a year. The cyclists and joggers, the deer and the rabbits, all the restful and athletic benefits of the Trace — all are now taken for granted.
The trailheads in each of the Trace’s municipalities are hubs of activity, with concerts, farmers markets and other community gatherings.
It is one of the remarkable success stories of the “rails to trails” movement as rail lines around the country were “re-purposed” for recreation. But it is also another success story for the broader perspective of what makes a community or parish successful, and that is a better quality of life.
“We are trying to promote this place as a good, outdoorsy lifestyle,” noted St. Tammany Economic Development director Don Shea. “The Trace is the spine of that.”
“Quality of life” is almost a catch-all phrase in politics, but taxpayers and governments across the nation ought to take note of the benefits of such projects. Far from frills, oft-said by those who are opposed to taxes to fund them, these projects are central to the economic vitality of cities and towns of the future.
In a knowledge economy, jobs are more mobile than ever. To attract and keep those jobs, projects like the Tammany Trace ought to be actively sought out by community leaders.
It is quality of life that makes a community attractive as a residence for people who can make money elsewhere. The worldwide competition for what Richard Florida dubbed “the creative class” is a ruthless winnowing process. The Tammany Trace is a splendid example of a community making the right choice.