Dollars and Sense: Indiana County Parks & Trails – A Great Deal

Dollars and Sense

Indiana County Parks & Trails – A Great Deal

Economic impact studies across Pennsylvania and the country have demonstrated the return on the investment in outdoor recreation resources over and over again.  A classic example of this impact is Indiana County Parks and Trails, home of the popular Ghost Town, Hoodlebug, and new Blairsville Riverfront Trail.  In 2009, the Ghost Town Trail was one of the sites that benefitted from a Rails to Trails Conservancy User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis.  Some key results:

  • The Ghost Town Trail had an annual visitation of more than 75,000 users. This number has held steady or increased since the 2009 study, with counters on the trail tracking similar usage annually;
  • 88% of those surveyed indicated they had purchased “hard goods” (bikes, bike accessories, clothing, etc.) in conjunction with their use of the trail for an annual average expenditure of $357.63;
  • 73% indicated they had purchased “soft goods” (water, ice cream, lunches, etc.) for an average expenditure of $13.62 per visit;
  • 12% of those surveyed reported that they had stayed overnight in conjunction with their visit, spending an average of $78.04 per night on lodging;
  • The total annual economic impact of trail usage was more than $1.7 million! Today, the impact is likely much higher, considering the 37-mile GTT was just getting completed at the time of the study and was not yet fully connected to the 11 mile Hoodlebug.

Conversely, Indiana County spends between $40,000-60,000 annual maintaining and repairing all 3 county trails, with trails AND parks accounting for less than 2% of the county budget!

The study further notes efforts that were underway at the time to increase connections to other nearby trails, including the West Penn Trail between Blairsville and Saltsburg, and the Westmoreland Heritage Trail in Saltsburg.  The study references the broader regional trail initiatives of which these trails are a part, and the increased economic opportunities associated with closing gaps between these trails, thereby creating a seamless system that would facilitate multi-day trips and tours.  Much progress has been made in creating those connections since the study was completed in 2009, and more work has been done to position communities and the region to benefit from that connectivity.  The Progress Fund’s Trail Town Program®, which works in small rural towns across western Pennsylvania and western Maryland, focusing on community and economic development around trail tourism and outdoor recreation, is now active in Saltsburg, which hosts the West Penn and Westmoreland Heritage Trails, and Cambria County’s Ebensburg,  the eastern end of the Ghost Town Trail.

It’s important to note that economic benefits are only one way trails contribute to the area’s quality of life.  Many trail users quote the health benefits of having easy access to nearby outdoor recreation resources as their primary reason for enjoying the trails.  Trails offer both a communal experience and an opportunity for private immersion in nature.  For more on trails within the Main Line Canal Greenway, go to http://mainlinecanalgreenway.org/experiencing-the-greenway/traveling-by-bike/

Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway