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Trails in relation to regional ecological and social values
The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) is home to hundreds of miles of trails that are accessible to a wide range of recreational users. Trails benefit human health by providing an excellent opportunity to engage in aerobic activity, contributing to reductions in heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even hypertension and anxiety. In addition to providing an opportunity for exercise, these trails provide economic vitality, access to nature, cultural awareness, and opportunities for socializing. A survey of natural resource professionals and conservation practitioners conducted as part of the Lake Erie Biodiversity Conservation Strategy (LEBCS) revealed that the most important ecosystem service provided by Lake Erie and its coastal area is recreation and tourism. Trails like the Lake Erie Birding Trail facilitate birding and recreational activities that fuel the region’s valuable tourism economy; tourism in Ohio’s seven coastal counties, for example, brings in annual $11.5 billion. In recent years, trails have become a focus of local and regional planning efforts, not only for social and economic benefits, but also for their important environmental benefits, such as providing habitat for animals and plants and reducing habitat fragmentation by connecting areas of conservation lands. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) are currently creating regional plans for non-motorized trails that will cover all 7 counties in the region, in recognition of the importance of trails in the well-being of residents. A similar effort is being undertaken in Ontario, which has developed the Ontario Trails Strategy to increase collaboration and access to trails for residents throughout the province.  This layer includes trails like the Ohio’s statewide Buckeye Trail, Michigan’s popular Hines Park Bikeway, and Ontario’s 31 mile (50 km) Chrysler Canada Trail and Pelee Island Winery Trail.  These trails and others were included in the analysis in recognition of their importance to the people of the WLEB.

Trails data layer
National, state or provincial, county and local trails that provide public access to nature were considered in the analysis. This data layer includes both existing and potential hiking trails, cycling trails, and trails for both hiking and cycling. This may include features such as shared roadways (roads including bike lanes) or gravel-surfaced trails that may not be suitable for all uses.  Approximately 734 miles (1,181 km) of trails were identified within the WLEB for inclusion in the analysis. Trails were attributed to hexes on simple presence-absence basis; no values were assigned to hexes without trails.