York County Economic Alliance is launching the “Trail Towns Program”, to leverage the York Heritage Rail Trail as a platform and driver for economic development in towns located along or near the popular multi-use trail. The pilot program will include 5 towns: York, Seven Valleys, Glen Rock, Railroad, and New Freedom. The intention is to expand the program as more of the trail is built.

Partnering with the York County Department of Parks, the York County Rail Trail Authority, Explore York, and our municipal partners, the Trail Towns Program is a collaborative process with outreach to local governments, residents and business owners in order for each town to reach its potential as a vibrant hub for trail users. By enhancing each town as a trail user-friendly destination and creating a cohesive Heritage Rail Trail experience, visitors will stay longer and spend more money, it will expand existing businesses and attract new ones.

What Is a Trail Town?

Trail Towns are communities adjacent to public trails that choose to embrace the trail as an opportunity for economic growth and improved quality of life.  Trail Towns programs use an integrated and asset-based, economic development approach that considers each town’s existing resources, it’s character and local businesses to develop a memorable and inviting trail experience for users including residents and out of town visitors alike.
The Trail Towns approach uses a business model based on the highly successful initiative developed by the Progress Fund, a non-profit community development financial institution that focuses on new or expanding tourism businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile trail connecting Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC.  The Progress Fund’s success has spurred similar efforts along trails in Pennsylvania and across the country.

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Benefits of Trails

Economic Benefits

There has been extensive research and study on various aspects of the economic impacts of multi-use trails; notable among them is the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) work, RTC has undertaken numerous studies and created a model for assessing spending patterns of trail users.

The RTC studies break trail user spending into three categories: “soft goods” (typically food or drink), “hard good” (bike parts, clothing, shoes, etc.) and lodging. Based on the 11 trails reviewed, over 67 % of respondents purchased soft goods while on the trail averaging $19.75 per trip; the Pine Creek Trail in north-central Pennsylvania saw the largest average in “soft goods” expenditure of over $38 per trip. The “hard goods” category had a larger percentage of respondents, with 82% of respondents buying hard goods related to the trail representing an average of $417.82 per user per year.

Reported spending on lodgings is modest because of most trails didn’t experience many overnight stays but across the 11 trails, 9% of respondents paid for overnight lodging near or along the trail with an average spend of nearly $100. It is assumed that a significant percentage of users stayed in campgrounds, lowering the average spending amount in this category.

Employee Recruitment and Retention
Recent research and media reports highlight the importance of quality of place and quality of life for employee recruitment and retention alike. It is also an important consideration for new business recruitment and existing business expansion. On a broader scale, the availability of trails is seen as a key influencer in people’s decision to select a community to live.

 

Business Recruitment
A 2003 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina found through a literature review that quality of life is an increasingly important consideration in determining business location. Most economists regard the quality of place/quality of life as influencing business locations indirectly, through the preference of workers. Workers prefer places where they expect to enjoy a high quality of life that embraces sociability, recreation, and alternative lifestyles.

Health & Wellness Benefits

Pennsylvania has the 24th highest adult obesity rate in the nation, and the 14th highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 a clear indication that Pennsylvanians (and Americans in general) don’t engage in physical activity as much as we should. In fact, only 50% of …

TRANSPORTATION BENEFITS

A rail trail, with its easy-to-cycle grades and off-road character, is an excellent transportation option with several transportation-specific benefits. As a transportation corridor, the trail provides accessible and safe routes for people to use for work trips or errands, trips to community facilities like …

CONSERVATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Rail trails are linear greenspaces with all the expected and traditional conservation benefits of open space. They help preserve important natural landscapes, provide needed links to create wildlife corridors between fragmented habitats and offer important …

HERITAGE PRESERVATION/COMMUNITY IDENTITY

Rail trails also represent an opportunity to celebrate the heritage and history of towns located on the trail. The preservation and restoration of historic buildings and other man-made structures (like rail tunnels, bridges, etc.) can enhance a community’s …

SOCIAL CAPITAL BENEFITS

Expanding on the theme of the improved community identity and civic pride is social capital. Social capital is the effective functioning of social groups in a place through interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, and a shared understanding that leads to a positive product, benefits, or …

EDUCATION BENEFITS

Trails of all kinds offer layers of benefits, an often overlooked one is the opportunity to educate its users. Providing signage, programs or events that present information about natural resources, the history of the area, or cultural resources along the trail or a specific site enriches the personal …

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Contact Silas Chamberlin to learn more and get involved. 

Conservation & Environmental Benefits

Rail trails are linear greenspaces with all the expected and traditional conservation benefits of open space. They help preserve important natural landscapes, provide needed links to create wildlife corridors between fragmented habitats, and offer important opportunities for protecting plant and animal species. Rail trails that lie along watercourses (like the HRTCP) are also assets in the preservation and protection of wetlands and the improvement of water quality. When used as transportation alternatives to the auto, as noted above, trails can also help with improved air quality. In addition, they can allow humans to experience nature with minimal environmental impact.

Providing opportunities for people to experience and interact with nature fosters appreciation for natural resources and increase the likelihood of those people supporting efforts to preserve and sustain those resources. This support can then be leveraged for environmental stewardship activities.

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Education Benefits

Trails of all kinds offer layers of benefits, an often overlooked one is the opportunity to educate its users. Providing signage, programs or events that present information about natural resources, the history of the area, or cultural resources along the trail or a specific site enriches the personal experience and can encourage further exploration or increase awareness and stewardship.

Health & Wellness Benefits

Pennsylvania has the 24th highest adult obesity rate in the nation and the 14th highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 a clear indication that Pennsylvanians (and Americans in general) don’t engage in physical activity as much as we should. In fact, only 50% of adults in the United States meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended guidelines for physical activity: 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, or its equivalent.

By contrast, physical activity, such as walking, running or cycling on a trail, can prevent the development of chronic disease or the progression of existing health conditions.

Along with reducing the risk of disease, physical activity has also been shown to improve individuals’ sleep, functioning and overall wellness. A single instance of physical activity can decrease blood pressure and anxiety symptoms while improving sleep, insulin sensitivity and cognition throughout the day the activity is performed.

Rail trails are non-discriminatory towards people, they benefit people of all ages, abilities, gender, ethnicity or race and are free! They are particularly suitable for families to exercise together, being accessible and safe for children. As attractive places to walk and bike, they are desirable to use and studies find people are more likely to exercise on a scenic trail giving them the added benefit of being in touch with nature. Trails provide a cost-effective way to exercise and provide a place for people to see others doing physical activities – a visible social support, which researchers have found to be an effective tool to encourage participation in physical activity.

Heritage Preservation/Community Identity
Rail trails also represent an opportunity to celebrate the heritage and history of towns located on the trail. The preservation and restoration of historic buildings and other man-made structures (like rail tunnels, bridges, etc.) can enhance a community’s identity, highlight historical figures and events and generally boost civic pride. A popular rail-trail can encourage the rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings; these types of activities are catalysts for future community preservation projects of other buildings. Reuse and rehabilitation of historic resources enable those assets to continue to contribute to their community and will offer succeeding generations the opportunity to appreciate the history of places that the rail trail passes through.
Social Capital Benefits

Expanding on the theme of the community identity and civic pride is social capital. Social capital is the effective functioning of social groups in a place through interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, and a shared understanding that leads to a positive product, benefits, or outcome. It is similar to financial capital but within a group of people or community – it’s personal. Trails function to bring people together through shared experience and therefore generate and enhance an area’s social capital. Having adequate social capital can be very beneficial when a community is met with a challenge requiring collaboration, cooperation, or common action among residents.

Rail trails have been called the 21st century’s “town square”, representing meeting places to socialize, exchange ideas, and get to know their neighbors. In this way, trails can capitalize on the social capital that they create and enhance community communications and interactions.

Transportation Benefits

A rail-trail, with its easy-to-cycle grades and off-road character, is an excellent transportation option with several transportation-specific benefits. As a transportation corridor, the trail provides accessible and safe routes for people to use for work trips or errands, trips to community facilities like local parks or the library, to go to school (primary, secondary and post-secondary), for some shopping trips, or for visiting friends.

Trails are community connectors, within communities and between communities. Rail trails, due to historic alignments that typically went through the middle of towns, offer easy mobility into town centers. This facilitates the exploration of nearby towns without the use of cars.

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