THIS DEFINITELY is a step in the right direction, or more accurately several thousand steps in the right direction for area joggers with a sense of history and an eye for scenic beauty.

In the face of a crippled economy and cash-starved city administration, last week's official dedication of the fully restored Boxers' Trail - which former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, among so many other Philadelphia fighters, used to run in Fairmount Park - is at least a small signal that all which we hold near and dear has not vanished or is in immediate danger of doing so for lack of funding.

Students from the James G. Blaine Elementary School joined city officials, donors, neighborhood leaders and pro boxers to celebrate the reopening of the 3.8-mile trail, the result of a $1.5 million restoration that was part of the 2001 Fairmount Park Commission's "Trail Master Plan."

What was once a narrow, unpaved path on a wooded hilltop above the Schuylkill River now connects the historic Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, the proposed National Audubon Society environmental center, historic Fairmount Park mansions and even the regional trails leading into Valley Forge.

"We are very pleased that the Boxers' Trail will continue to be used by future generations in Philadelphia," Mark Focht, executive director of Fairmount Park, said in a prepared statement. "It is personally rewarding to see all-age neighbors taking advantage of this beautiful stretch of Fairmount Park now that this restoration is complete."

In 2001, the Daily News published the series "Acres of Neglect," which detailed the blight that had turned large tracts of Philly's lush, green spaces into weed-choked eyesores. It's good to know that there are fights worth waging that actually are fought and won by media watchdogs.

A lot of boxing people in this town would love to see a statue of the Boxers' Trail's most famous user, Frazier, commissioned for placement somewhere along the route he so frequently ran while doing his early-morning roadwork. But as you might have heard, dollars for essential services are hard to scrounge up these days, much less those for civic improvements or for statues to commemorate past heroes.

Speaking of books . . .

If you're a procrastinator like me, a large chunk of your seasonal shopping is done closer to Christmas Day than to Black Friday.

Should you be looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the fight fan on your list, might I suggest a terrific read, "Four Kings," which was authored by former Boston Herald boxing writer George Kimball.

"Four Kings" is an in-depth study of the nine bouts that paired Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran against one another from 1980 to '89. Kimball was at ringside for each of those epic matchups and, in addition to his eye for detail and excellent reportorial skills, he is one of the best in the business for capturing the moment and cranking out prose that is as exquisite as was the action inside the ring involving the four legendary principals.

C'mon get slappy

Promoter Damon Feldman is describing the Jan. 24 celebrity boxing showdown between notorious baseball slugger/whistle-blower Jose Canseco and former "Partridge Family" kid Danny Bonaduce as a "grudge match," but I fail to see why these pugnacious publicity-seekers have much reason to dislike each other. I don't think Canseco ratted out Bonaduce, now a radio personality on WYSP-FM, as one of the players who juiced up on performance-enhancing drugs to hit more home runs or to register higher on the radar gun with their fastballs.

Canseco, 44, knocked loopy in one round by former Eagles kick returner and current WCAU-TV sportscaster Vai Sikahema on July 12 in Atlantic City's Bernie Robbins Stadium, has at least mastered one boxing trick of the trade: making excuses for poor performance. He's now claiming he was ill when he fought Sikahema, hadn't trained properly and, who knows, didn't check his biorhythms beforehand.

A more fitting grudge match might pit Bonaduce, 49, against David Cassidy, who played his older brother, Keith, on the popular sitcom that ran from 1970 to '74. Bonaduce might still be piqued that it was Cassidy, not he, who was the heartthrob of all those screaming teenage girls, and Cassidy could harbor some lingering resentment that most of the funny lines seemingly were scripted for the wise-cracking Bonaduce.

Canseco and Bonaduce square off at the Ice Works Skating Complex in Aston.

Big and bad

If you ask me, 46-year-old Evander Holyfield (42-10-2, 27 KOs) did more than enough to wrest the WBA heavyweight championship from Russian giant Nikolay Valuev (50-1, 34 KOs) this past weekend in Zurich, Switzerland. Disputing the late Wilt Chamberlain's assertion that nobody likes Goliath, the judges awarded Valuev a controversial majority decision.

Four-time former heavyweight titlist Holyfield - who was giving away 9 1/2 inches in height and 96 1/4 pounds - didn't look especially sharp. But you have to wonder how often the 7-foot, 314 3/4-pound Valuev, who throws punches that should be timed with a sundial, would win if he wasn't so Shaq-sized. *

Send e-mail to fernanb@phillynews.com