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Benefits of Trails

Unlocking the Economic & Community Development Potential of IHTC Trails

By: Rails-to-Trails-Conservancy REPORT
August 1, 2023

Ohio's Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail | Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Unlocking the Economic & Community Development Potential of IHTC TrailsDownload

A region brimming with great trails makes for an appealing outdoor destination. That is why the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (IHTC) is working to complete and connect a system of shared use trails across 51 counties in western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, and southwest New York. IHTC’s vision is that this “Industrial Heartland” will become a premier destination offering a 1,500-mile multi-use trail network experience.

Even though the coalition has been working collaboratively for 10+ years to fulfill this vision, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), one of the coalition’s supporting organizations, recognizes that IHTC trails can have a greater impact on the regional economy. IHTC’s origins, after all, are rooted in the desire to establish a more vibrant and economically prospering region. Nevertheless, over the past decade, trail advocates have focused most of their efforts on building trails rather than planning for a thriving trail economy.

RTC began this “Unlocking the Economic Potential of IHTC Trails” project in hopes of renewing the coalition’s pursuit of a more prosperous region. The project team assembled a Steering Committee, interviewed subject-area experts, held focus group discussions, and hosted a workshop to determine how to work toward this goal. In total, the eight-month project engaged more than 100 stakeholders, many of them from outside of the trails community and even outside of the region. Interestingly, a project that began with the acknowledgement that the coalition has not historically involved enough people from other professions (economic developers, tourism professionals, elected officials, and others) enabled IHTC to begin fostering such relationships.

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