EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Bike trails offer potential economic benefits

2013-06-09T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Bike trails offer potential economic benefitsBy John Wilson nwitimes.com
June 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Several of my columns have addressed the positive economic value of parks and recreation. Not only here, but I make it a practice at public speaking engagements to highlight the economics of parks and recreation.

Recently, Trails for Illinois took on a project providing economic data about trails in Illinois that do not exist to local and state governments. TFI is a nonprofit organization with a mission to enhance the quality of life in Illinois by connecting the state’s communities and countryside with an interconnected, multi-use public trail network, and by promoting the use of trails for recreation and transportation. The organization truly would like to make your doorstep and driveway your trailhead!

As parks and recreation present a positive economic value to a community, Trails for Illinois, in its publication "Making Trails Count in Illinois," showed the tremendous economic value a trail could bring to a community.

From mid-July to October 2012, TFI and its partners Rails to Trails Conservancy and the University of Illinois Office of Recreation and Parks Resources conducted trail counts and surveyed users on six non-motorized Illinois trails. One of the trails in the report was in our region — the Old Plank Trail — where it was projected that more than 120,000 individuals use this trail on an annual basis.

Some of the economic information that was revealed from this project – one-third of the trail users surveyed spends money while using a trail; 35 percent of the respondents spend money in restaurants and bars; 20 percent spend money on vehicle expenses like gas and car rental; while another 17 percent spend money at grocery stores. On the average $30.40 was the mean average of all reported trail visit expenditures. In addition, users on the trails indicated that they would spend at least one night in a local hotel because they were visiting from outside of the area.

This is an excellent revenue stream for local businesses and villages that are lucky to have a bike trail running through their community. The problem is, a lot of communities do not embrace this economic engine. Villages and towns need to embrace the economic, environmental and health benefits of trails by making their community a destination.

In Lansing, with the Pennsy Greenway, we are seeing more and more users on the trail. Later this year when Munster hooks up to the Pennsy, there will be even more traffic on the trail. More bodies on the trail and the willingness of business owners to open their doors will truly create a win-win situation for the businesses along the trail. Trails are good!

Discretionary spending is a choice. If communities make an effort to become a destination point, the findings from Making Trails Count in Illinois establishes a great foundation that shows the potential economic benefits of trails for any community.

For more information about Trails for Illinois, visit www.trailsforillinois.org. Happy trails to you!

John Wilson is director of the Lan-Oak Park District. The opinions are the writer's.

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