Did you know that Americans spend more each year on bicycling gear and trips than they do on airplane tickets and fees? That’s a lot of money. About $646 billion in consumer spending and 6.1 million direct jobs a year.
That’s one of the many reasons communities all over the country are building trail systems as a savvy investment in their local economy.
An organized effort to link a 180-mile system of rail-trails out of Morgantown received a very public launch April 24 – 26 with the riding of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s inaugural West Virginia Rail-Trail Sojourn. Sojourners spent three days riding the three arms of the Mon River Trails system as well as the Marion County Trail, the Cheat Lake Trail and the Sheepskin Trail.
This tour of rail-trails in and around Morgantown attracted about 100 riders and support staff from 12 states, who spent more than $38,000 on local hotels, food and services.
Each Sojourn rider spent an average of $121.53 on meals, beverages and snacks from local shops and restaurants, in addition to the food provided by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy which was sourced from local vendors. $20,835.00 was spent on lodging.
Morgantown was the hub, and the riders flowed in and out of town to the south, the north, and the south east.
They were from New York, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and Virginia. Just a few were from West Virginia. They stayed in local hotels, ate at local restaurants and shopped in local stores. And, to put it simply, it was this region’s rail-trails that brought them to town.
And while the patchwork 80-mile tour the riders enjoyed this weekend is certainly a start, by completing just a few strategic segments of the trail system the Morgantown area would put itself at the center of a 180-mile trail network that would be the envy of the rail-trail world, and link to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) in Pennsylvania.
As the GAP already does for Pennsylvania, it would bring riders from all over the world to West Virginia. (The GAP has been shown to generate more than $40 million in direct spending from trail users annually, and an average of $114 in spending per day from overnight visitors.)
So The Hub agrees with a growing crowd of local leaders and businesspeople that completion of the region’s trail system would be a strategic and long-sighted investment in the state’s tourism economy.
Close the gaps, connect to the GAP.
For more information on the West Virginia Rail-Trail Sojourn and work being done behind rail-trails in the Morgantown area, visit www.montrails.org