There’s been a buzz about the trails community since the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy released its latest economic impact report. It’s the first economic impact study on the GAP since the trail was completed in 2013.
The economic growth is impressive: the GAP Conservancy attributes $74 million in direct spending (2019) to GAP trail use, and $121 million overall when accounting for indirect and induced spending. In 2002, the direct annual impact of the GAP was measured at $7.26 million. In 17 years’ time, the impact has increased by 10 times!
In the years between these two studies, I managed some GAP research. (I oversaw both economic research and trail counts when I worked for the Trail Town Program®). The GAP economic impact study I managed in 2008-09 measured direct economic impact at $40 million. I’m pretty sure that figure has been shared all across the U.S. and Canada over the past 10+ years, but now it’s time to share some new and more convincing data.
The economic impact just keeps expanding. The growing trail economy has even crossed an interesting threshold with the latest research. The GAP Conservancy estimates the lifetime hard cost of building the trail at $80 million. That amount (and then some) is returned to the regional economy each season.
This research is a gift to the trails community. Trail and community advocates are hungry for good research. The data I shared above just scratches the surface of what’s included in the new report. Look further, and you’ll find that:
- The GAP supports living wage jobs ($38,000 is the average annual wage among GAP-supported jobs).
- 44% of businesses surveyed were founded primarily to serve GAP users. Some of those businesses are looking to retire (read: opportunity for new entrepreneurs).
- Town residents and representatives have overwhelmingly positive outlooks toward the GAP.
- 70% of businesses surveyed saw significantly decreased activity during the 2020 season. (This tracks with research I did for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council on the pandemic’s impact on PA trails: 2020 was a challenging year for trail businesses.)
If you’re someone who is working to make the case for trails, do yourself a favor and spend some time with the Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Report. There are a lot of nuances in trail research. Not every trail will produce $121 million in annual economic impact. But knowing this level of impact is possible and understanding the investments behind this growth as well as the challenges and opportunities that continue to exist for trail communities can only deepen your ability to advocate for your trail.
Thank you to the GAP Conservancy, Fourth Economy, and the report’s funders for making this important, thoughtful research available.