Skeptics may wonder what true benefit there is in having trail systems and greenways in a community. They look nice, yes, but do they add real, tangible value to a city or town? The answer is a resounding yes. A multi-use trail design has a consistent, positive impact both in the community and in the economy. Constructing trails and green spaces in our communities is a worthwhile long-term investment. In fact, a 2018 study from North Carolina State University estimates that:
"Every $1.00 of trail construction in North Carolina supports $1.72 annually from local business revenue, sales tax revenue, and benefits related to health and transportation."
So how do trails benefit the local economy?
Increased Property Values
Proximity to multi-use trails is a top requested amenity for homebuyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. Plots of land adjacent to trails and greenways can offer homeowners a significant increase in property value. Though the impact for a single property may be relatively small, the impact across the entire affected area stacks up to something significant — sometimes to hundreds of million of dollars. Both property values and taxes see an increase when homes are located near trail systems and other walkable areas.
Increased Jobs and Revenue in Local Businesses
With the number of recreational bikers, hikers and tourists, areas with trail systems help create local jobs and increase revenue and traffic in local businesses. Retail and snack shops, as well as restaurants, benefit from proximity to trails and greenways and encourage new businesses to move in. For example, the Virginia Creeper Trail has generated $1.59 million annually from visitor spending.
By providing a safe means of travel for bikers and pedestrians, a multi-use trail design provides an alternative to vehicular travel that is emission and cost-free. Connected systems of trails and greenways offer reliable means to travel short distances without requiring gasoline. In addition, they often preserve vital open areas and floodplains. As wetland areas and floodplains function normally, residential and commercial areas are less likely to flood; flood insurance rates decrease, as does the $1 billion cost of property damages every year.
Reduction of Medical Costs
A sedentary lifestyle has shown to greatly influence health and well-being negatively. Walking or hiking a few times a week has shown to improve overall health, even in otherwise inactive individuals. This, in turn, decreases health care costs. A National Park Service Study revealed that those who exercise file 14% fewer health care claims and spend 30% fewer days in the hospital than those who are sedentary. A multi-use trail design, then, can provide a free means of healthy exercise for those in urban and rural areas alike.
Revitalization of Depressed Areas
Trails and greenways have long been used to aid in the revitalization of depressed areas, particularly in downtown areas. Occupancy rates and demand have been known to increase in areas with new green spaces and trails. They offer an attractive space both commercially and residentially.
The City of Cleveland’s Michael J. Zone Recreation Center Sustainable Greenspace (see photos on right) is a good example of this type of revitalization effort, demonstrating sustainability principles and wetland transformation and permanent agriculture in an urban neighborhood.
Provides Free Recreation and Transportation Opportunities
Once a green space or trail is in place, it offers an area for people to play, exercise and relax. A safe space is given to children, cyclists and other pedestrians to travel through their community without fear of traffic dangers or the growing cost of vehicular transportation. Trails and greenways make this lifestyle possible.
Overall, the cost of creating and maintaining multi-use trails and greenways pales in comparison to the economic benefits the spaces create. Learn more about the ecological benefits of PermaTrak's concrete boardwalk system.
- Evaluating the Economic Impact of Shared Use Paths in North Carolina - Institute for Transportation Research and Education and Alta Planning + Design
- Trails Research and Searchable Benefits Library - Headwaters Economics
Photo Credit: 1st photo by alykat