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Survey of Pine Creek Rail Trail users

From "Pine Creek Rail Trail 2006 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis" Download complete study (pdf 1.3 MB).

Researched and written by Carl Knoch and Patricia Tomes, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Financed in part by a grant from: PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Community Conservation Partnerships Program

Map of Pennsylvania

Executive Summary

The Pine Creek Rail Trail covers 62.6-miles in north-central Pennsylvania. Segments of the trail were first opened a decade previously as development proceeded south from Ansonia toward Jersey Shore. Along the route, the trail passes through the heart of the Pine Creek Valley and the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania" through forests, rich farmland and historical villages.

"Pine Creek Rail Trail has become one of the most popular recreational trails in Pennsylvania."

While the majority of trail user survey respondents reside in Pennsylvania (85.99 percent), the trail attracts users from New York (5.41percent), Maryland (1.74 percent), New Jersey (0.97 percent) and 20 other states (5.60 percent). There were two respondents from Canada and one from the United Kingdom. Of the survey respondents from Pennsylvania most were from Lycoming County (22.13 percent). Coming in second was Lancaster County (9.21 percent) and third was Tioga County (8.65 percent). Trail user survey respondents represented 56 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.

The largest percentage of survey respondents (41.07 percent) indicated that they used the trail a few times during the year, which is what would be expected of a destination trail. For 20.37 percent of the survey respondents this was their first trip to the Pine Creek Rail Trail which indicates that word is still spreading about this great Pennsylvania resource. More than 88 percent of the trail survey respondents are over the age of 35. More than 45 percent of the survey respondents are over the age of 55. With regard to gender, men use the trail (55.85 percent) somewhat more frequently than women (44.15 percent). These demographics are very typical of those found in other rail-trail user surveys.

Biking is the predominant form of recreation on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Nearly 64 percent of the respondents indicated biking as their primary activity. A trip to the trail for most users involves the investment of more than an hour of walking or biking. More than 62 percent of the users spend at least two hours on the trail during an outing. Another 29 percent spend between one and two hours.

The segment of the trail that receives the highest usage according to the survey respondents is between Tiadaghton and Blackwell through the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania (14.03 percent). The section of the trail that is least utilized is the lowest section from Waterville south. Officially this section of the trail did not open until the summer of 2006. Survey respondents indicated that they would be on the trail anytime they could without particular preference for morning, afternoon or evening.

Weekends are more popular for getting on the trail than weekdays but many of the respondents indicated they used the trail on both weekdays and weekends.

Respondent's knowledge of the trail came primarily from "word of mouth" (48.14 percent). "Other" was the second-most frequent response to this question (24.02 percent). Many of the survey respondents were either residents of the Pine Creek Valley or had been coming to the valley for vacation or recreation for many years and were aware of the trail when it was still an active railroad. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national organization that promotes the development of rail-trails, was the third-most important source of information for the users of the Pine Creek Rail Trail (19.07 percent).

In terms of economic impact, 82 percent of the respondents indicated they had purchased "hard goods" (bikes, bike accessories, clothing, etc.) in the past year in conjunction with their use of the trail. The majority of these purchases were bicycles and bike supplies that resulted in an average expenditure of $354. While these types of purchases are not annually recurring, even with the most conservative usage estimate they amount to millions of dollars in sales. As a destination trail many of these purchases do not take place in the Pine Creek Valley. However, considering that nearly 86 percent of survey respondents are Pennsylvania residents, the trail is having a dramatic impact of the state's economy.

Even more significant is the purchase of "soft goods" (water, soda, candy, ice cream, lunches, etc.) 86 percent of the respondents indicated they purchased these types of items on their most recent trail outing. The average purchase amount per person was $30. Considering that the average user makes several trips to the trail on an annual basis, at the minimum these types of purchases are also contributing several million dollars to the economy of the Pine Creek Valley. And, these types of purchases are recurring year after year.

As a destination trail, the Pine Creek Rail Trail user frequently has to stay overnight in the valley in conjunction with a visit. The survey respondents indicated that more than 57 percent of them spent an overnight stay in conjunction with a trail excursion. The most frequent type of accommodation was indicated as "Other" which in most cases was a vacation home or camp in the valley. Local motels/hotels (22.43 percent) were the second-most frequently indicated type of accommodation. On average the survey respondents spent 3.34 nights in overnight accommodations and spent an average of $69 per night.

More than 68 percent of the respondents to this survey stated that the maintenance of the trail was excellent. More than 90 percent felt that safety and security along the trail was good to excellent. More than 72 percent of respondents felt the cleanliness of the trail environment was excellent.

When asked if they would be willing to pay an annual "user fee" to help maintain the Pine Creek Rail Trail, nearly 60 percent responded that they would.

Regarding the PA Wilds (a state tourism area), 21.3 percent of survey respondents didn't know what they were. More than 50 percent of survey respondents indicated they did not visit other PA Wilds sites in conjunction with their trip to the Pine Creek Rail Trail.


During the summer of 2006 this initial study of the users of the Pine Creek Rail Trail was conducted by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy under a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This study utilized survey methodology previously tested on Pennsylvania trails and documented in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Trail User Survey Workbook ( ). This survey was designed to monitor user characteristics and determine the economic impact of the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

Self-mailing and postage-paid survey forms were available April though October 2006 at ten official trailheads along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and at many of the merchants who cater to trail users. Completed responses were mailed back to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. In all, 1,049 completed survey forms are included in this study.

From "Pine Creek Rail Trail 2006 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis" Download complete study (pdf 1.3 MB).


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