BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A groundbreaking was held recently for the Battlefield Trail Extension, which adds 1.8 miles to City of Brownsville’s Historic Battlefield Trail.

Among those attending the ceremony were representatives from, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the City of Brownsville, the National Park Service, the UT School of Public Health, the City Harlingen, the City of Port Isabel, the City of South Padre Island, the City of Los Fresnos, the City of San Benito and the Town of Rancho Viejo.

It is the first phase in a plan to connect Brownsville with Los Fresnos by trail and is a project intended to increase access to public lands in the region. The extension to the trail ties in with Challenge-RGV, a county-wide effort to inspire healthy eating and active living among residents.

The Battlefield Trail Extension was funded with a $2 million grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation (Legacy Foundation) to jumpstart Cameron County’s efforts to create new opportunities for physical activity and active transportation in a part of the country facing significant rates of chronic disease and poverty.

It is the first of six Caracara Trails catalyst projects that are intended to accelerate development of the 428-mile trail network, which is poised to deliver significant health and economic benefits to the region.

Brownsville City Commissioner Rose M.Z. Gowen

For example, the development of the trail network is expected to generate a 22 percent increase in physical activity to Cameron County residents and an annual health care cost savings of as much as $12.3 million. Construction of the trail network alone is expected to deliver a total economic impact of more than $173 million.

“As we break ground on the Battlefield Trail Extension, we’re marking a turning point for the health, wellness and economic potential of our region,” said Rose M.Z. Gowen, M.D., Brownsville city commissioner and a board member of RTC.

“The Caracara Trails vision is already bringing new investment to Cameron County in the form of federal and private grants. Already, you can see families and friends out on the trails, having fun while building new routines in their lives around physical activity.”

Soon, Gowen said, a trail will connect Brownsville to Los Fresnos, with the new extension part of the project.

“Our trail network vision and all that it can deliver for the health and economic growth of our region is being realized with each investment, each mile of trail built and each person who gets out for a walk, a run or a ride.”

The above podcast features all the speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony.

UT School of Public Health’s perspective

Dr. Belinda Reininger, regional dean for the UT School of Public Health, speaks at the Carcara Trails news conference. (Photo: Ron Whitlock/Ron Whitlock Reports)

Dr. Belinda M. Reininger, regional dean for the UT School of Public Health, spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“It is truly our pleasure to be a partner with all of these cities and all organizations,” Reininger said, explaining that all her school’s partners had wanted to take decisions based on research.

“We are making a difference with every choice we put in place. I wanted to highlight some of that research. We know that when trails are connected, meaning they go somewhere that people want to go and they are connected to important places, that people are more likely to use them,” Reininger said.

“We also know that when trails are aesthetically pleasing, that people want to be out there. When there are things to see people are more likely to use them. Historic sites, cultural sites, the beautiful landscape, the wildlife, will be more available and more accessible for our population.”

Reininger said that when trails are closer to someone’s home, when they are more accessible, people are more likely use them.

“This trail system is creating options across Cameron County for people to be able to get on a trail, go to work, go to school, go out for enjoyment, and so this, again, is purposeful. We are so thankful for the people who have embraced this,” she said.

“Ultimately, when we get people on trails, based on international research, national research, and local research, when people are living nearer or being able to access a trail more easily, we know they are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.”

Reininger then ran through those guidelines.

“That means that each week they are getting enough physical activity to make a difference in their health. How much activity is that? It is about 150 minutes. Thirty minutes five times a day, walking briskly, running, burning some calories.”

Reininger said when those guidelines are met, a person can delay the onset of a number of chronic diseases.

“And if you have a chronic disease already, like diabetes, and you are getting that physical activity, you are able to control it better. You are able to manage it better. So, no matter what, it is a benefit for your health,” Reininger said.

“When we are healthier we are saving money. We are saving money on healthcare costs, as an individual and as a society. And, we all know this, when we are feeling good we are more productive. You are working harder, you are feeling better. Your quality of life improves.”

Reininger added that it would not just be individuals that benefit, but also communities.

“I really love the representation that this system brings to us. We are coming together, we are changing our culture, we are changing our dynamics, we are building action, we are feeling empowered.

“We know that when we are outside and we are connected to nature, it is good for our mental health. This trail system is remarkable. Today is a momentous occasion and the UT School of Public Health is so pleased to be a part of it and so proud of all the work you all are doing.”