Bike travelers on the Great Allegheny Passage pump about $40 million a year into the local economies and $7.5 million into wages along the 132-mile rail-to-trail from Cumberland, Maryland, to the outskirts of Pittsburgh.
Those are the not-so-surprising findings of the Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Study conducted in 2008 and 2009.
The report once again proves the “build-it-and-they-will-come” relationship between trails, bicyclists, and profitability to businesses in the vicinity, especially those that cater to bike travel.
Some of the major findings of the study:
— The $40 million was more than five times the impact of $7.26 million in 2001, when the Passage links had not yet been connected;
— On average, businesses attributed 25% of their sales to trail users;
— Lodging and outdoors outfitters experienced the biggest gains;
— Two-thirds of businesses reported some growth in gross revenue because of their proximity to the trail;
— One-quarter of all businesses surveyed intend to expand operations or staff because of the trail's impact.
Congressman John Murtha, whose district includes part of the GAP trail, touted the success of such trails in a press release:
“The recreational and economic impact that biking and hiking trails have on our region is overlooked and understated. When we started converting former rail lines into trail networks more than 30 years ago, none of us had any idea how successful they would be.”
Another Pennsylvania congressman, Bill Shuster, writing in support of the findings:
“The Passage is a well tuned engine of economic activity and this report will only help speed along future growth, opportunity and investment to benefit our communities.”
Parts of the economic study commissioned by The Trail Fund's Progress Town Program, Laurel Highlands Visitor's Bureau and the Allegheny Trail Alliance were reported last year. The current report in its finished form includes follow-up data collected from trail users and businesses through May of this year.
In addtion to the business data, the trail surveyors interviewed 1,300 trail users for the report. Nine out of 10 were riding bicycles. Here's some stats from them:
— Four out of 10 trail users said they were making an overnight trip and would need lodging.
— On average, the report found that these overnight travelers spent an average $98 a day in trail communities.
— They came from nearly every state in the US as well as parts of Canada;
— 35% of the overnight trail users earn a combined household income of more than $100,000.
Of course there are many more benefits to the GAP rail-to-trail that aren't mentioned in the report. The trail provides a place for people to get outside, exercise, beat the stress of daily living, visit new places and see new things.
But so often the catalyst for building bike trails is a dollar-and-cents issue for local communities. These kinds of reports are important to remind communities that many bike travelers will visit their towns expecting to spend money, making it worth the effort to build the trail and draw tourism.
One community that got the message is Connellsville, Pennsylvania.
The town in western Pennsylvania is on the GAP and is recommending a series of improvements to entice bike travelers off the trail and into downtown. Consultant James Pashek told the Daily Courier:
“Tourism is the most recent industry in Connellsville. The emerging economy is based on the trail, the western edge of town along the river.” He added that the challenge for planning is to get users of the Great Allegheny Passage to “leave some of their dollars in town.”
Photo above: Bike travelers pause at the highest point on the Great Allegheny Passage, from KerryCrow at flickr.com.