It was terrific to read in the Clare County Review that there is interest in filling the “Clare Gap” and better connecting the city to the popular Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.
From us here at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a hearty congratulations to the residents, businesspeople and leaders of Clare. As a national organization which has witnessed the development of more than 2,600 miles of rail-trail in Michigan, and many thousands of miles across America, we have seen hundreds of rail-trail projects like this one bring a vast array of benefits to communities large and small. And the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail is one of the best in the nation, as recognized by RTC in 2009 with induction into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
Trails are, most obviously, fantastic venues for recreation. Developing a multi-use trail in your community will increase walking and biking in the area, whether for simply getting from A to B, or for leisure and exercise. The health benefits that result from such activity are well documented. Doctors across America prescribe regular short walks or rides as effective preventative treatments of arthritis, dementia and alzheimer’s, obesity related illnesses and depression, to name but a few. Areas that provide safe pathways for this simple activity reduce America’s healthcare spending by many millions of dollars a year.
But trails also play a crucial role in strengthening local economies. The outdoor recreation market is experiencing an historic boom, as Americans seek vacation and recreation options closer to home. Businesses in rural centers across the country are capitalizing on their location next to trails. More than 170,000 people use the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail every year, a number that is growing. This represents a new and sustainable source of revenue for those municipalities that can connect the trail to their businesses and main streets. How much? Last year Americans spent $51 billion on bicycling gear and trips, $30 billion more than they spent on airplane tickets and fees. Visiting riders, hikers and skiers are looking for local food, local beds, local souvenirs and local services, and it is in your communities that they will buy them. This is not speculation. It is happening all across America.
And research by the National Association of Homebuilders found that trails were the number one amenity desired by potential new homebuyers. Towns large and small with trails and similar amenities are the ones that best resisted the recession, where home prices are the most robust, and that are now attracting new residents and businesses.
Anyone interested in resources about funding, building and maintaining rail-trails, or in learning more about rail-trail projects across America, is encouraged to get in touch with myself or any of our experienced staff.
Director, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Midwest Regional Office
33-C North High Street
Canal Winchester, OH