Though the communities that have developed significant rail-trail networks can attest to the positive impact trail traffic has on local businesses, elsewhere this phenomenon still has its doubters. For every cynical landowner turned hotelier, or every entrepreneur who has been able to bring commerce and jobs back to local main streets thanks to trail tourism, there is another who holds firmly to the long disproven idea that trail users don't spend money in the communities they visit.
Which is why Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has focused in recent years on accurately documenting that economic impact, presenting well-researched data, hard numbers that prove, for example, that non-local visitors to the Pine Creek Rail Trail in Pennsylvania spend an average of $99.30 per visit. Or that people riding and hiking the Great Allegheny Passage leave more than $21 million a year in the communities and businesses along the way.
Though the numbers tell a compelling story, the locals themselves offer unique insights into just what local destination trails mean to their businesses. In June of this year, we visited dozens of these business owners along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal towpath through Pennsylvania and Maryland. Here's what they had to say!