Looking back, 50 years from now, I suspect this will be seen as the beginning of a new era for trails in Illinois.
The publication of "Making Trails Count" - a count and study of trail user numbers and spending patterns on six trails across Illinois - is now arming trail planners and advocates state wide with the hard data they need to make the case for why trail building means good things for communities and economies.
Led by Trails for Illinois and supported by RTC's Midwest Office and Illinois' Office of Recreation & Park Resources, Making Trails Count initially conducted counts and surveys on the Fox River Trail, MCT Goshen Trail, Hennepin Canal Parkway, Old Plank Road Trail, Rock Island Trail, and the Tunnel Hill State Trail in the summer and fall of 2012.
The Old Plank, Fox River, and Goshen trails received an estimated 127,600, 86,500 and 67,600 annual users respectively, for the first time putting solid data behind what we knew anecdotally - there is a huge demand for biking and walking infrastructure all over the state.
Says Trails for Illinois' Steve Buchtel: "We want to show Illinois and its communities the Triple Bottom Line benefits-economic growth, improved health, environmental stewardship-that trails are creating. We want to put a number on those benefits so decision makers take them seriously."
And now, Trails for Illinois is getting ready to release user data for the granddaddy of them all, the Illinois Prairie Path. Given its popularity, we imagine data from the counts there (pictured), which were conducted July to September, will reveal another compelling story about the economic and health benefits of trails to the state.
Some key pieces of data to emerge from Making Trails Count so far:
35 percent of trail users reported spending money at restaurants and bars during their visit to the trail.
Nearly 40 percent of trail users reported household incomes above $100,000.
The average amount of all purchases during a trail visit was $30.40 per person.
71 percent of users surveyed were 46 and older.
32 percent of trail users expected to spend more than 150 minutes on the trail that day cycling, running and walking. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity for adults.
Want to understand what Making Trails Count really means to trail planners in Illinois? Check outthis wonderful testimony from the recreation director for the City of Palos Heights, Mike Leonard.
"If you're selling it to a city manager, or a council, you have to sell the economic benefit of it. The only way you can do that is with documents like this, that directly correlate economic impact to trail use."
"When a developer comes to town, you can push this across their desk and say 'you know what would work really well here? A microbrewery. You know what would really work here? An ice-cream shop.' 'Why?' 'Well, you don't want to sell 200,000 ice-cream cones?"
The full report is available as a free download atwww.trailsforillinois.org/maketrailscount