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Economic benefits of trails and greenways
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The Economic and Social Benefit of Trails

Trails are an important part of community well-being in many areas.

By Gary Sjoquist
map of minnesota

During warm weather months in Minnesota, nearly 1.5 million cyclists, inline skaters, and walkers use our nationally-recognized city, county, and state trails. In fact, these trails are a quality of life issue for residents, as well as luring tourists from neighboring states who don't have access to the number and variety of trails we have in Minnesota. Other than a quality of life issue, our trails are an economic boon to the state as well.

"Generally, it's been found a trail can bring at least one million dollars annually to a community."

Lanesboro, on the Root River Trail in Southeastern Minnesota, is an often-cited example of the economic impact a trail can have. Pre- and post-trail Lanesboro, a town of about 800 residents, differ dramatically. Post-trail Lanesboro boasts 12 B&Bs (with year-long waiting lists), 8 restaurants, an art gallery, a museum, and a thriving community theater well-off enough to offer housing to its actors. Economically speaking, the Root River Trail has been very, very good for Lanesboro.

A specific example from Lanesboro can provide further insight. The bike shop in Lanesboro, a small "mom and pop" kind of a place, sold 60 tandem bicycles in a single year (more than the Twin Cities largest multi-store bike retailer that same year). Now, few people would go to Lanesboro to specifically purchase a not-inexpensive tandem bicycle. Rather, this is an indication of people who are having a good time, want it to continue, and are willing to spend the money to spend quality time on the trail. This kind of "impulse" purchase bodes well for retailers along our trails.

Nationally, trail-related expenditures range from less than $1 per day to more than $75 per day, depending on mileage covered. Generally, it's been found a trail can bring at least one million dollars annually to a community, depending on how well the town embraces the trail. For a town like Lanesboro, a trail can mean an annual economic impact of more than five million dollars.

Another aspect has to do with how trails affect property values and the general attractiveness of an area. Studies have shown that 70% of landowners felt that overall, an adjacent trail was a good "neighbor," with positive impacts including 1) getting in touch with nature (64%), 2) recreational opportunity (53%), and 3) health benefits (24%).

Furthermore, 70% of real estate agents use trails as a selling feature when selling homes near trails. 80.5% of them feel the trail would make it easier to sell. In Minnesota, 87% of home owners believe trails either increased the value of their homes or had no impact. On Seattle's most popular trail, homeowners with properties near, but not adjacent to the trail, sold for an average of 6% more than comparable property elsewhere. Additionally, the U.S. National Parks Service notes that increases in property values range from 5 to 32% when adjacent to trails and greenways.

To better estimate potential economic impact, it's important to understand a demographic profile. Overall, trail users average about 48 years of age, are more likely to be male, have completed college, with annual household incomes between $35,000 and $75,000. In Minnesota, trail users have median incomes $10,000 higher than average; good news for the communities along the trail.

With trail users relatively affluent, mobile, and interested in spending quality time with families, trails provide a perfect "getaway" adventure. Having access to trails has changed how families recreate, with people taking shorter but more frequent "vacations" closer to home and with a more family-oriented focus.

Trails have also allowed these escapes to include a wider variety of family members. Thanks to our mostly paved trails, and the advent of bicycle trailers, "trail-a-bikes," and comfort bikes, it's not uncommon to see an entire extended family - children, teens, parents, and grandparents sharing an outdoor recreational activity. While not an "economic" benefit, necessarily, this is still an important "value added" component trails bring to our state.

For more information, contact the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota at: 651-726-2457 or 1-800-944-0707 (outside Minnesota) 275 E. 4th Street #642, St. Paul MN 55101-1651 -- e-mail: info@parksandtrails.or

Other links:

MN Dept. of Natural Resources home page

Metropolitan Council Regional Parks

February 2003

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