MERA receives national recognition

Sean Chambers, manager of the Mount Emily Recreation Area, installs a new map at a MERA trailhead on Saturday. He is with his daughter Chloe, right, and son, Treyson (hidden). (Dick Mason, The Observer)

Trails are rivers of life for the outdoor recreationist, allowing one to voyage into forests without disturbing nature’s pulse.

The Union County Mount Emily Recreation Area has many miles of such rivers of life, a trail system now drawing national attention. Union County MERA has received a Recreational Trails Program Achievement Award from the Coalition for Recreational Trails, a national organization.

“This is fantastic news. It means a lot to be recognized on the national level,” said Sean Chambers, manager of the Mount Emily Recreation Area.

He said the award will send an important message about MERA throughout the region.

“The open sign is on and it is glowing,” he said.

Chambers said that much of the credit for the award goes to the many volunteers and organizations who have assisted with trail work since work on the MERA network began. These volunteers include Lannce Colburn, chairman of MERA’s advisory council, who submitted a written document nominating Union County MERA for the award.

“It was very well-written,” Chambers said. “(Colburn) expressed the MERA project very well.”

MERA’s award will be presented at a ceremony June 11 in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill. The event will be conducted by the Coalition for Recreational Trails, which provides funds to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both non-motorized and motorized recreational trail uses. Chambers said that someone representing Union County MERA may be present to accept the award.

The award MERA won is in the Multiple-Use Management and Corridor Sharing category. The category is for organizations that have facilitated and encouraged the use of a trail corridor by more than one type of trail enthusiast, particularly those enthusiasts who often do not ordinarily share trails or trail-related facilities.

MERA allows both motorized and non-motorized recreation. All trails have specific designated uses. He said the trail system is in good condition because many of its users work to make sure everyone who uses the trails also protect their condition.

“They respect the environment,” Chambers said of the majority of MERA’s users.

He noted that when there are heavy rains, recreationists stay off the trails system because they know the trails are vulnerable to damage when it is wet and muddy, and when trails are new, users are careful about traveling on them because they realize they are more sensitive.

Work on MERA’s trail system began about 10 years ago. All told, about $460,000 has been spent creating MERA’s trail network. The total includes $332,000 from Recreational Trails Program funds and about $128,000 in matching funds.

Much of the matching funds are from in-kind labor, Chambers said. He explained that Union County MERA received $18 in credit for each volunteer hour worked. The hours were tabulated and then the Recreational Trails Program provided a match for every volunteer hour worked.

“Without the volunteer labor, we never would have been able to leverage that (Recreational Trails Program) money,” Chambers said. “We would not have even tried.”

MERA was established by Union County in 2008. It is managed by the Union County Parks Department and the MERA Advisory Committee and has 45 miles of non-motorized trails and 40 miles of motorized trails, according to www.meetmera.org.

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