We live in a city that has more than 300 days of sunshine a year, and the mountains and natural beauty that make El Paso are unmatched in other parts of Texas and the U.S. Our environment is conducive to active outdoor living, yet El Paso has some of the highest rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the country.
The Paso del Norte Health Foundation has worked for two decades investing in programs that encourage physical activity and combat chronic disease. You might remember the “Walk El Paso Walk” campaign during which thousands of El Pasoans logged thousands of miles.
This year, our board and staff took our investments in physical activity one step further. We repurposed 3.4 miles of the historic Playa Drain, turning a former irrigation ditch into a recreational trail and creating a master plan for the Paso del Norte Trail — a larger 60-mile connected and accessible recreational trail spanning the length of El Paso County.
The vision is to develop a trail that connects our community, celebrates El Paso’s rich history and culture, highlights the Rio Grande and promotes active living among residents and visitors alike.
These first 3.4 miles of trail on the Playa Drain are a testament to this vision and the power of collaboration. El Paso Water contributed the land and allowed for its joint use for stormwater management and recreation, the city of El Paso contributed amenities from the quality of life bond (with lighting to be installed later) and will maintain the trail going forward, and the health foundation contributed more than $2.5 million for design and construction.
With the help of Creative Kids, students from the Ysleta Independent School District developed ceramic tile murals that are located every quarter mile on the trail and showcase El Paso’s local beauty. Whole Foods donated bicycle repair stations and the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation contributed sunscreen dispensers.
There are various fruit and shade trees along the pathway donated by Yoko Ono that were part of the “Wish Tree” installation at last year’s Chalk the Block.
There are five interpretive signs featuring information on wildlife along the trail, as well as information on stormwater management, water irrigation and health. And in response to community demand, the Playa Drain Trail includes water fountains to refill water bottles, with lower stations for thirsty pets.
All of this is happening because of our community – neighbors, students, families and public and private organizations – who have come together to improve the health of our city. Together, we can provide resources and opportunities for El Paso to increase physical activity and fight against preventable diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
El Paso is moving forward – and now we have a new trail to help us lead the way.
We invite you to join us for the grand opening of the Playa Drain Trail 9 a.m. Nov. 10 at the Riverside Park entrance. The event will feature a fun walk and scavenger hunt and will be a great celebration of the communities from Riverside to Ascarate Park.
Together we are moving El Paso forward.
Tracy Yellen is the chief executive officer of the Paso del Norte Foundation, which includes the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, Fundacion Paso del Norte para la Salud y Bienestar and El Paso Giving Day.