The saying “if you build it, they will come” might have been written for a movie, but it just as easily could have been written for Huntington’s Paul Ambrose Trail for Health.
The 26-mile network of recreational trails, popularly known as the PATH, has been in development since 2007. Bethany Williams, program coordinator for the Huntington-based Rahall Transportation Institute, said the trail’s growing presence has sparked a surge in recreational cycling, walking and jogging within the city.
“There has been a change,” she said. “People seem to be thinking healthier. We’re especially seeing it downtown, where bike lanes have been installed. People are riding bikes to work and school, as well as riding them for fun and fitness.”
Such use dovetails precisely with developers’ vision for the PATH. Williams said its namesake, Dr. Paul Ambrose, championed health and wellness as a form of preventative medicine. After Ambrose was killed in the 9-11 terror attacks, his family set up a foundation to help promote Ambrose’s obesity-fighting ideals.
In 2007, Huntington-area officials began drawing up plans for a multi-use trail in and around the city. A public contest gave the trail its name in 2008, and in 2009 volunteers built the first new segment of trail in the city’s St. Cloud Commons Park. Successful fund-raising efforts led to plans for segments in the Harveytown area and along the two sections of the city’s floodwall.
So far, eight sections have been completed and are in use: a 4.8-mile stretch along the floodwall between Ritter Park and West Huntington; a 2.75-mile stretch along Memorial Boulevard between Ritter Park and Harveytown Road; a 1.7-mile stretch along the floodwall in Guyandotte; a 1.5-mile stretch through Spring Hill Cemetery; a 1.1-mile stretch that encircles Ritter Park; another 1.1-mile stretch that encircles St. Cloud Common Park; an 0.59-mile stretch along Harveytown Road; and an 0.25-mile stretch near the Ohio River in East Huntington.
Organizations began holding events on the trail in 2009.
The first was FitFest, a multi-distance run/walk and community event. Next was the Tour de PATH, a multi-distance bike ride in and along the trail network.
On April 3, the Tour de PATH will join forces with the Healthy Huntington Festival, the culmination of the Healthy Huntington 90-Day Challenge.
“The challenge gives Huntington residents a set of things to do every week that promote healthy living,” Williams explained. “The gist is to add a few things every week, and by the end of 90 days it should result in some lifestyle changes. Holding the Healthy Huntington Festival at the end of that gives people a chance to celebrate the improvements they’ve made in their health.”
The festival, headquartered at the city’s Pullman Square shopping and dining area, will kick off at 8 a.m. with a 5K run/walk. Williams said event’s vendors will focus on healthy eating and healthy habits that include exercise.
The Tour de PATH is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., also at Pullman Square. Williams said the event, which is free and open to all participants, is
“not just for adults, either. Kids are welcome, especially on the shorter ride, which is slower-paced for their little bikes.
“The rides include a 4-mile loop around downtown and Marshall [University]; a 7-mile loop that goes around Marshall and out to Ritter Park and back; and a Grand Tour of 26 miles that follows the PATH where it has been built. There will be two groups going out on the long ride, a slower-paced group and a fast-paced group.”
Williams said the Huntington Police Department’s bike patrol officers would accompany riders on the 4-mile circuit. “It’s going to be a really safe ride,” she said. “The only thing we ask is that riders wear helmets. Those who participate will be given a chance to purchase commemorative t-shirts.”
City and county officials hope eventually to link the scattered segments into a single cohesive unit. It’s possible to ride the entire trail now, but hopping from segment to segment involves riding on city streets or walking on sidewalks.
Williams believes the day will come when people throughout the city will be able to access the trail without traveling more than a few blocks.
“The plans are in place,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of securing the funding and doing the work to link the segments together.”
Reach John McCoy