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How do walking/biking trails pay back to the community?

Article by Rod Spidahl, Fergus Falls City Council member and parks & trails enthusiast

Rod Spidahl, along with his grandson and dog, enjoy a ski track south of the Otter Tail River.

People ask: How will it benefit my restaurant or business? Who’s going to pay for it? Will the benefits cover the long-term trail maintenance? These practical questions are ones we can begin to address. While specific monetary returns per biker/trail user are hard to come by, here are some stats and facts that we do know:

  • The Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Sparta, Wisc. was one of the nation’s first rail trails (1960s). The trail boasts 100,000 to 120,000 users each year, many from out of state.
  • A north central Wisconsin study showed lots adjacent to an 87-mile trail sold faster and for an average of 9% more than similar property not on the trail. Higher property values are corroborated by the Consumer’s Survey on Smart Choices for Home Buyers findings that multi-modal trails ranked second out of 18 primary amenity choices.
  • A study of the Wisconsin Fox River Trail showed 39% of responding businesses indicated increased sales as a result of the trail users.
  • A 1992 National Park Survey of non-motorized trail users in Iowa, Florida and California produced a yearly revenue of $2.68 million in 2018 dollar value.
  • Ninety-three percent of the uses of the Greenbriar Trail in West Virginia were from visitors staying in the area from 1-4 days. Fifty-eight percent of visitors spent between $100 and $500 in the area. About 93% of the trail users indicated that they were highly likely to make a return trip.
  • It took only one season after the opening of the 35-mile Missouri River State Trail for 61 businesses along the trail to be positively impacted — 11 reported the trail strongly affected their locating there and 17 other businesses expanded in size since the trail opened.
  • A cost-benefit analysis on bike and pedestrian trail use in Lincoln, Neb. to reduce health care costs associated with inactivity compared trail cost per capita with annual direct medical benefits of trail use. For every $1 invested in trails there was $2.70 in medical benefit value. While travel and equipment affected the ratios, the positive returns measured as high as $1 invested to $13.40 return.
  • Noting other important advantages, two walks taken for the same time or distance, one inside (usually on a treadmill or around a track) and the other walk outdoors, showed volunteers enjoying the outside activity more and, on subsequent psychological tests, scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem. They also scored lower on tension, depression and fatigue after the outside walk.

Of course, if you ask my grandson or my dog, Moose, noting the delighted squeals or tail wagging from just half an hour in lots of fresh air, reflected February light — with bird and animal sightings … trail benefits are a hearty, “Yes!” The GMPT, Greater Regional Parks & Trails Commission and sponsors are recreating a healthy and sustainable future for all Minnesotans and visitors. See you on the trails!