This guide provides seven steps communities can use to capitalize on the economic development opportunities a new recreation trail can bring to a community. It provides several case studies of communities that have successfully incorporated trails into their economic development, including Lanesboro, MN, which following the opening of the Root River State Trail, saw the number of B&Bs go from one to ten along with the establishment of enough restaurants and activities to support a tourist economy.
Communities should understand community capacity and design; identify target markets based on trail characteristics, determine their relationship to the trail system; choose trailhead sites based on desired user markets and impacts; locate trailheads within town boundaries to concentrate economic impacts, build off existing markets and cultivate partnerships.
Several case studies of communities that have successfully incorporated trails into their economic development are provided, including:
Once a popular summer resort that had to deal with slow winters, Traverse City, Michigan opened a network of ski trails in the 1950s. Now, large numbers of visitors without winter recreation trails in their hometown visit Traverse City each year. This is, in part due to a marketing program that targets families, packaging recreation with attractions like cherry orchards, festivals, arts and crafts, historic hotels and resorts, and natural scenery. There have also been extensive media relation campaigns that invite travel writers from warmer climates to try new winter sports.
The Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Sparta Wisconsin was one of the nation’s first rail trails, and since its opening in the 1960s, several other rail trails have opened in the area. The trail boasts 100,000 to 120,000 users each year, many from out of state. The businesses of Sparta, the self-proclaimed “Bicycling Capital of America”, support their town’s identity by means such as hotels and campgrounds that offer free trail passes, restaurants that serve healthy food to bicyclists, tour packages with lodging, bike rental and shuttles, and a variety of stores that serve bicycling needs.
When Mrs. B’s Historic Lanesboro Inn opened in Lanesboro, Minnesota soon before the Root River State trail opened, it was the area’s first bed and breakfast. There are now ten. Fifty to sixty percent of Mrs. B’s guests are trail users. According to Mrs. B’s management, a critical mass of lodging, restaurants and activities are necessary to create a tourist economy around a trail.
The Maryland Northern Central Rail Trail, near Baltimore, has 450,000 annual users and an annual economic impact of $3,380,000. Almost all visitors live near the trail.