September is the month we celebrate trails in Pennsylvania. With more than 12,000 miles of trails throughout the Commonwealth there’s no shortage of opportunities to highlight.
Events this summer along the D and L Trail at Lehigh Gorge State Park and the Great Allegheny Passage in Fayette County demonstrate the importance the Shapiro Administration see in trails and outdoor recreation.
“I’ve long recognized the economic benefit of parks and trails. As Montgomery County Commissioner, I led the effort to invest in our trails. We built and repaired dozens of miles of trails,” Governor Josh Shapiro said at the event along the D&L Trail in Carbon County. “When we ensure more Pennsylvanians can enjoy the outdoors, we can improve public health and grow our economy all at the same time.”
Trails can mean big economic and social benefits for cities and small towns.
Trails Improves Community Wellbeing
Trail towns benefit the neighborhoods and residents by attracting businesses, increasing economic growth, inspiring community development, and maintaining safety.
West Newton, Westmoreland County, lies along the Great Allegheny Passage trail that runs from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh. The trail gave rise to the Outpost Eatery, a student-run business through the Waypoint Youth and Community Center complete with a food truck.
The Outpost Eatery invites high school students from low-income families to work at bettering themselves and their community members through after-school programming, selling five-star-rated burgers along the trail, and practicing life skills.
“We have the best kids,” said Chris Morse, CEO of the Waypoint Youth and Community Center. “We have given kids the opportunity and challenge they need and want.”
The Outpost is open from April through October. for programming three days a week and after school while school is in session. In the summer, the Outpost runs five days of programs as well as maintaining the food truck on the weekends. They employ 14 high school students, many of whom return summer after summer, and 3 full-time staff. The program aims to connect students to the community and highlight their greatness.
“The big thing we try to do is remove boundaries -- a lot of it is limiting because they have a limited perspective. As they encounter people from all over the world who travel on this trail, they begin to see themselves differently,” Morse said. “The kids get an interesting perspective about different parts of the world, new opportunities, and job opportunities."
Trail Increases Income for Small Businesses
The Jakes Rocks mountain biking trail in Warren in the Pennsylvania Wilds is the perfect example of “if you build it, they will come.”
Warren is home to the only mountain biking trail system in Pennsylvania within a national forest -- the Allegheny National Forest. With increased connection between the trail, the town, and trail users, thousands of visitors come to ride these trails.
An increased use of social media and marketing to the mountain biking community has brought people from all over the world to the incredible outdoor recreation opportunities on the trails in Warren.
Nearly 500 people ride per weekend during the summer on trails that offer many unique opportunities for riders of all ages and abilities -- from easy trails to downhill bouldering trails.
As a result of the increased usage, the nearby businesses and restaurants are doing exceptionally well, according to Jim Decker, Executive Director of Warren County Development Association. The trail system has been hugely beneficial to the economy and community in Warren.
“It’s changed the attitude of the community -- we are attracting people from all over the East Coast,” Decker said. “People are wondering what they are missing, and they want to check it out. The trails have had more tourists and locals realize how important it is.”
There is no shortage of heartwarming stories of successful trail towns in Pennsylvania.
Tools to Develop Trail Towns
There are many resources available throughout the Commonwealth for planning and certifying an official Trail Town. Certificates increase a trail town’s marketability to visitors and planning tools can help generate ideas and processes to create revitalized communities.
Get inspiration for a rail-trail visit this fall from visitPA.com and explore the trail towns along the way!