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The Beaten Path: Change in community habits follows Unity Trail

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2010

Since its completion, the Unity Trail has sparked an increase in health awareness and proved a boon for some local businesses.

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Runners participate in the inaugural Rotary Unity Run in 2004. The annual event uses a portion of the now well-used Unity Trail between Soldotna and Kenai to raise funds for local Rotary chapters.

Kenai Director of Parks and Recreation Bob Frates said that the trail has brought residents out of their homes and encouraged them to take advantage of the summer weather. Frates said that the trail gives area residents a path to ski during winter, as well.

The Unity Trail is a paved biking, running and walking path that runs along the Kenai Spur Highway between Kenai and Soldotna. Connected with bike paths along Kalifornsky Beach Road, the trail is part of a 23-mile loop that hosts the Kenai River Marathon and this weekend's Unity Run, organized by the cities' Rotary clubs.

Steve Beeson, the owner of Beemun's Variety and True Value, said that his shop has sold more bikes since the trail opened 2003. Comfort and road bikes do better on the paved trail because those styles have smoother tires and cut through air faster than mountain bikes. Beeson recommended cyclists purchase customized bikes because mass produced models don't fit their riding posture as well.

"It's the difference between driving a Yugo and a good Chevy," he said.

Thi Christopherson, a salesperson at Foot Flare n' Wear, said that running and trail shoe sales have spiked each summer.

"It provides a place for people to use our shoes," she said.

Even stores without exercise equipment enjoy the additional foot traffic and other benefits to their shops.

Bob Wallace, owner of Moose Is Loose bakery, said that customers with bicycles on their vans walk into the shop three or four times a week. The owner of Mykel's Restaurant, Alice Kerkvliet, said that the trail has enabled many of her employees to commute via bike or foot power.

Rod Matson, the owner of Matson's Wines, said that he sees bikers zipping past his store, but he doesn't think many of them come back.

"You can see heads turning, but not to many people actually come in," he said.

Dr. Lynn Carlson, of Kenai, said that running and biking are low impact sports that increase levels of beneficial hormones, turns up the heart rate and helps empty out the lungs. Carlson said that, aside from potential hip and ankle arthritis, running and biking generally do the body good.

"It's the best thing one can do for their lifestyle besides removing refined carbohydrates from their diet," the doctor said.

Beeson said that he walks and bikes the trail frequently.

"I like to ride the loop, or go out for a 10-mile ride," he said. "It's a good thing to do."

He has ridden the full 20-plus-mile loop several times, but occasionally he will take the Beaver Loop Road shortcut when he's in a rush. The store owner considers biking and taking walks his "things." Beeson takes precautions even though he's not on the highway. He uses the side streets instead of going through downtown Soldotna.

"I feel much safer," he said.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.



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