Enlow works to bring fitness trails to Tahlequah
Cherokee Nation citizen Lori Enlow, of Tahlequah, traveled to Colorado in mid-July to repeatedly climb a mountain to raise funds for mountain biking and hiking trails for Tahlequah. ARNOLD BEGAY
Lori Enlow makes her way up Handies Peak near Silverton, Colorado. The Cherokee Nation citizen climbed the mountain five times on July 13 to raise funds for mountain biking and hiking trails for Tahlequah. ARNOLD BEGAY
TAHLEQUAH – Lori Enlow is a wife, mother, nurse practitioner, ultra-distance runner and now a fundraiser for a project she believes will improve her fellow community members’ health.
Enlow, of Tahlequah, is raising money to build a mountain biking and hiking trail system east of Tahlequah for people of all ages, skills and abilities. She is a member of the Tahlequah Trails Association, which is partnering with the city to develop the trail system on approximately 200 acres east of the Illinois River.
The Cherokee Nation citizen said the idea for the trails has been around for years. “More recently, probably in the last couple of years, there’s been a group of people trying to put it into action. A group of people came together, myself included, and started to establish ourselves as the Tahlequah Trails Association,” Enlow said.
She said a group met in December, formed the nonprofit TTA and established a board. It received 501(c)3 status in January when it learned about the acreage near the river. Enlow said the group decided the site would be “the perfect place” to develop trails.
“We got a little more serious about this attempt,” she said. “The city entered into a lease agreement (for the 200 acres) with the county for that purpose of trail development. We put together a proposal for trail development and have started fundraising and seeking grants to help fund this project.”
She said the group would like to develop 15 to 20 trail miles, but she understands that might be too ambitious because typically an acre can accommodate a half mile to a mile of trail.
While the TTA is still in planning, Enlow said it would like to complete one mile of trail by 2021. The first grant being sought is from the International Mountain Bicycling Association. It would provide a “trail accelerator grant” to the TTA to hire trail designers and developers.
She said the 200 acres have rolling hills and a large ravine, which would allow the TTA to develop “some advanced trails and some up-and-down trails.”
“We’re also looking at other grant resources for construction of the parking area,” Enlow said. “Hopefully once the fall rolls around we’ll be able to start doing some of the dirt work, and then we’ll get some things rolling. Hopefully in one year we’ll have a trail out there.”
To raise funds, Enlow traveled to Colorado in mid-July to climb Handies Peak near Silverton. She had planned to climb the 14,058-foot peak seven times on July 13. Each lap of running and walking up the mountain was just under 10 miles and included an elevation of 4,300 feet. After five ascents and nearly 50 miles an injured back would not allow her to continue. Still, she managed to raise half of her $4,209 goal.
From her research, Enlow said cities and towns with trail systems have better health outcomes for citizens. The diseases people in the Tahlequah area struggle with are linked to diet and lifestyle, she said, which includes heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
“With all of those things, you can reduce your risk of cancer by 30 percent just with diet and lifestyle changes, so there is no drug or no pill that I can give that would reduce your risk of developing cancer by 30 percent, but exercise and diet can,” she said. “When you start to develop a healthier lifestyle where you’re engaging in outdoor activities and moving your body, you tend to actually crave healthier food as well. You just tend to become healthier in general.
“So, I think having these trails and this ability to get people moving could be a great catalyst for not just increasing exercise, but improving diet and lifestyle, and I haven’t even touched on mental health. Being outside on a trail reduces depression and anxiety more than medication,” she added.
Along with improving people’s health, a trail system also “fosters connections” among people, improves environmental consciousness and would likely bring more tourists to Tahlequah, Enlow said. “If we do this right, we could definitely become a destination for trail riders, which would mean revenue for our local businesses and restaurants, airbnbs and cabins. It would also mean increased traffic for the river (businesses).”
The long-term goal for the group and the city is to link the trails east of the city with the trails being constructed in Tahlequah.
“Ideally, our long-term goal is that we have a system of trails that link to the downtown, that in theory you could ride your bike from downtown all the way to the trail system and back,” she said. “I think it could be huge for our area, for tourism. We’re at the end of the Trail of Tears. This whole area is rich in Cherokee culture and history. I want this to be a sustainable trail system for generations to come.”
For more information, visit tahlequahtrails.org
, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit the group’s “Tahlequah Trails” Facebook page.