FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SOUTHERN PENNSYLVANIA CONTINUES GROWTH AS TRAILS AND OUTDOOR TOURISM DESTINATION:
Rail-to-Trails Conservancy's 2011 Greenway Sojourn Draws National Focus to Northern Laurel Highlands
EBENSBURG, PA. Since 2002, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) annual Greenway Sojourn bicycle tour has brought riders and trail enthusiasts from all over America to Pennsylvania's adventure playground. From July 19 to 24, the 9th Annual Sojourn turns its national focus to the towns and trails of the northern Laurel Highlands, including the Ghost Town, Hoodlebug and Roaring Run trails, bringing with it 250 riders from 24 states across America.
But this year's Sojourn has brought more to the region than just five days of visitors. Route planning and preparations for the event during the past year have resulted in a surge of local trail development activity. Buoyed by an unprecedented level of local and state government support for recreational trails as regional attractions, the arrival of the Sojourn has sparked the completion of several trail systems—closing gaps and increasing trail connectivity throughout the northern Laurel Highlands, about 50 mile east of Pittsburgh.
"The Sojourn has bought a lot of attention to the area," says RTC's Tom Sexton, who in the past few months has overseen investments of more than $30,000 in five trails along the Sojourn route; with local matches, that figure reaches $60,000. "We have been able to complete a number of crucial missing sections and developed new trail networks to connect with the famous routes, like the Ghost Town Trail, and the Hoodlebug. In order to spread the benefit of trail tourism to towns throughout this area, places like Vintondale and Nanty-Glo and Blairsville, we need more than just out-and-back trails. We need trail networks, and loops, and places for people to stop along the way."
Planning for the 2011 Sojourn resulted in the new Cambria and Indiana Trail (CandI) being made available for the Sojourn's use. The C&I loops off the Ghost Town Trail, and will eventually be open to the general public, giving visitors to the region another option to explore.
Trail-user surveys conducted by RTC in 2009 found that more than 70,000 recreational users visited the Ghost Town Trail each year, representing annual expenditures of close to $1.7 million. Sexton says that with some coordination and promotion, trail tourism could provide Blair, Westmoreland, Indiana and Cambria counties into outdoors recreation destinations with a regular source of commercial activity that is both sustainable and lucrative.
"We are not talking about dramatically transforming a whole region," Sexton says. "But with the way that outdoor recreation is growing like it is, there is an opportunity for these towns to benefit from that."
And the state of Pennsylvania is paying attention. On Wednesday night, July 20, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Cindy Dunn will visit the Sojourn in Ebensburg, Pa., to discuss the importance of local trails and outdoor recreation to the region's economic development and community health.
To learn more about the Sojourn, including daily activities and a route map, visit www.railstotrails.org/Sojourn.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with more than 150,000 members and supporters, is the nation's largest trails organization dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines and connecting corridors. Founded in 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's national office is located in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For more information visit www.railstotrails.org.