Eric Ellman

Special to The Review

In less than a week the cities of Edinburg and McAllen partner to turn 13.5 miles of the canal that joins them into a haven for bicycles. For one day, it’s the McCANALenburg Challenge, and whoever is reading this, whether you’re a cyclist or a city planner, a developer of subdivisions or owner of a tattoo parlor, Los Caminos del Rio challenges you to participate. Yours and your children’s lives depend on it.

Everyone talks about the Valley’s diabetes. Los Caminos del Rio challenges you to do something.

There is little mystery to preventing and controlling diabetes. Eat right. Exercise regularly. You will be less susceptible. But where do you exercise in the Valley? Our streets have no sidewalks and our towns have few trails. Subdivisions lack parks and developers make virtually no investment in shade trees. Is it any wonder that the Valley has a diabetes rate 300 percent of the national average? As an organization devoted to preservation of the Valley’s cultural heritage, Los Caminos del Rio reminds you it…. wasn’t…. always…. this…. way.

Valley communities once were walkable. They had to be; there were no cars. Mixed use reigned. Before we segregated neighborhoods as “single-lot ranch” subdivisions, people walked from store to home and school to church. Or they rode there by horse. Often under a canopy of trees.

That’s part of the past that Los Caminos wants to restore — along with architectural traditions from a pre-electric age that incorporate elements of “sustainability” when sustainability was just common sense.

But how do you incorporate features of a by-gone age into the demands of the new one? It’s too late to turn the valley into a European-style village, but can’t we build something on top of our modern template with the same quality of life?

The Edinburg Main canal — the route of the McCANALenburg Challenge — is a testament to turn of the century engineering prowess, and potential starting point for a world-class network of waterside trails to inter-connect our towns, raise real estate values, and introduce more active lifestyles. Getting 500 people to see that is my personal McCANALenburg challenge. What can you do to make the Valley a healthier, more interesting place to live?

If you’re a Planning and Zoning Board member, or part of a government council that makes their rules, challenge yourself to develop codes that foster healthier, greener development. Read up on examples at www.newurbanism.org. or pick up The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Great stuff.

If you’re a private land holder, or member of an association whose land is posted, I challenge you to learn about the Texas Recreational Use Statute which indemnifies private land holders against suit for accidents; you have little to lose from cooperating with your neighbors in sharing adjoining spaces for recreation. (Indeed you have much to gain; studies show that proximity of a hike-and-bike trail raises property values).

If you’re a member of an Irrigation or Drainage District’s Board of Directors we particularly challenge you to follow the model of Edinburg’s Irrigation District 1 which worked with its neighbor cities to make good use of a historic resource in a time of flux and funding cuts.

Don’t sit on any of these august boards? Don’t go away. There’s plenty of challenges left:

Got a bike in the garage with two flat tires? Fill’em up and oil the chain! For a free preview tour of the route, join us at West Side Park on Saturday at 10 a.m., or on Tuesday at the the Echo Hotel 8. Don’t have a bike at all? We’ve got a few to lend out. (what’s your excuse NOW?)

Why are we doing all this? We know the McCANALenburg Trail is so peaceful and beautiful and easy to ride that once you experience it with us you’ll come back Saturday, Dec. 27 with your friends. And because we need the public to demand that future economic stimulus spending — spending that’s going to be infrastructure intensive — includes money for badly needed alternative projects like this.

Want to help make sure no one falls in the canal? Or is it the cool t-shirt you get for volunteering? Call either way, we need 50 ride marshalls to patrol short 1-3 mile sections of trail.

Don’t want to ride, but still want to spend a day in nature with those who do? We have 13 relief stations along the route, each one perfect for a different Valley organization with a health-related message or product to promote. Want to meet 500 active people? We challenge you to sign up for one of the remaining spots.

This year, on the Saturday between Christmas and New Years do something different. Spend more time in healthy pursuits with your family. Get a jump start on your New Years resolution to exercise more. Buy, borrow or repair a bike, or borrow one of ours for a preview ride. Pray for good weather and plan to join us in Edinburg at the 2008 McCANALenburg Challenge.

I challenge you!

Eric Ellman is the executive director of Los Caminos del Rio. For more information about the grant, or the McCANALenburg Challenge, visit their website, www.loscaminos.org, or call (956) 776-0100 ext. 311.