Americans’ growing interest in spending more of their days – including their workdays – outdoors is spurring property owners to invest in outdoor amenities. Gradually, those investments are also showing that some of the simplest amenities – like a walking trail – can be highly valued and highly impactful.

Lake Kittamaqundi. Photo courtesy of The Howard Hughes Corporation.

“One of the biggest lessons that commercial property owners and developers have learned over the past 18 months is how to rethink their strategy for outdoor amenities,” said Wes MacQuilliam, Business Development Associate at the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC). “For too long, I think that some developers viewed outdoor amenities as simply a code requirement when designing projects, resulting in many impractical, unused amenities. For example, adding a gazebo may look good on paper and checks a box, but it may sit unused and unkempt for years before becoming an eyesore. The current environment has caused developers to create purpose-built, functional amenities that will actually appeal to, and be used by, tenants.”

Those thoughtful amenities have, of course, included outdoor dining spaces, tables and patios outside office buildings that can be used for casual lunches or strategic planning meetings, and open green spaces that support anything from quiet, midday breaks to staff parties to exercise classes.

“One trend that has surprised me is the increase in walking trails,” MacQuilliam said. “They’ve been uncommon in the past but it makes sense that they’re becoming much more common since workers not only enjoy getting out of the office and exercising on their breaks, but also having easy access to restaurants and retail stores.”

In keeping with that trend, “the County has also prioritized adding and enhancing hiking and biking trails which improves quality of life for residents and supports recreational sales,” he said.

MacQuilliam added the trails also provide residents with alternate means of transportation and ease road traffic.

MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate has “put in walking trails on properties in Hunt Valley to create places where people can have what they consider to be a safer conversation because it is outside,” said Brendan Gill, President of MacKenzie Management. “Rather than meeting in a conference room, you might meet while taking a walk on a trail. Our tenants have been very receptive to that so we have been working to meet that need.”

As part of its redevelopment of downtown Columbia, The Howard Hughes Corporation upgraded and expanded Columbia’s trail system.

“In the Merriweather District, we created new, multi-use pathways for hiking and biking that are separated from the roadways and connect to the lakes – Wilde Lake, Lake Kittamaqundi, all the way to Lake Elkhorn,” said Greg Fitchitt, President, Columbia at The Howard Hughes Corporation.

In addition to supporting quality of life in Columbia, the trails give residents, workers and visitors easier access to restaurants, retail, offices and event spaces. They also provide an added amenity to tenants in Columbia office buildings.

Occupants of the recently completed office tower at 6100 Merriweather Drive “can easily enjoy the great outdoors,” Fitchitt said. “They can walk out of the office and right onto the trails. They can run around Lake Kittamaqundi and complete a 5k pretty easily, then come back to the fitness center in the building, get a shower, use the towel service and go back to work refreshed.”