Sunday, September 19, 1999

Study: Bike trail a boon to economy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Planners who tout the importance of green space and trails have another weapon in their arsenal. A new study provides tangible evidence that the recreational trails are good not only for the heart but for local pocketbooks.

        Ohio's longest bicycle and walking trail, the Little Miami Scenic Trail, pumps up to $2.4 million annually into Warren County's economy, according to a recent study by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

        The study — the first in Ohio — quantifies the benefit of a hiking and biking trail. Previously, its importance was measured solely by its impact on quality of life.

        The results likely will play an important role in counties such as Warren, where open land is snatched up quicker than pizza at a slumber party and preserving green space and developing trails have assumed greater urgency.

        The study also should help change misperceptions that such trails lead to highercrime and loss of privacy, said Elaine Marsh, project manager of the Ohio Greenways Initiative, a non-profit organization that in stigated the study.

        “It was intended to let communities know the benefits are tremendous,” Ms. Marsh said. “What we're hoping this will do is instead of people saying not in my backyard, they'll say, "Please, please, in my backyard.'”

        The study, which began in 1997, evaluated 27 miles of the 62-mile trail, from Loveland north to Corwin. It found:

        • During each of the 150,000 visits annually, bikers and walkers spent an average of $13.54, primarily for food and gas.

        • The purchase of equipment, such as hiking boots, bicycles and in-line skates, generated another $1.3 million for the region.

        • Users generally traveled about a half hour to reach the trail.

        • Most were frequent visitors, averaging 37 trips a year.

        • The average trail user was a white male between 30 and 50, with a college degree and an income of more than $50,000 a year.

        • Biking was the most popular activity, followed by walking, jogging and in-line skating.

        Wayne Township resident Celeste Ryan needs little convincing about the trail's benefits. Her livelihood depends on it.

        To cater to the traffic on the trail, she and her family opened the Corwin Peddler, a quaint shop that sells ice cream and snacks and rents bicycles and skates. The northern Warren County shop is in its fourth season and has catered to people from 46 states who have come to try out the trail.

        When time permits, Mrs. Ryan and her family also hit the trail, heading south for a picnic lunch near Fort Ancient.

        On the trail, “you can air yourself out a little bit,” she said.

        It also provides welcome refuge from rapid development.

        “For all the houses we're building, we need to have a place for recreation, a place to remember what nature is like,” she said.

        Trail advocates said the tide is turning, to increased support of green space preservation and trail development.

        “People are starting to say we don't have to develop every square inch,” Ms. Marsh said. “Planned and beautiful beats haphazard and ugly every time.”

        With Warren County's population up 37,000 since 1990, to 150,000 today, people are watching the rapid pace of development and “thinking that if we don't get (park and trail space) now, it's going to be difficult to get it later,” said Bob Craig, a planner for the county.

        On a recent summer evening, Dave and Shirley Youkin of Centerville prepared for their maiden voyage on new bikes.

        Mr. Youkin supports the development of trails and said cities should hurry to convert other rail lines before it's too late.

        “The trails are a valuable resource,” he said. “I think we should make them before they're all paved over and buildings are built on top.”

        The first leg of the Little Miami Scenic Trail, from Loveland to Morrow, dates to 1984. It is the oldest in the state — and one of the first “rail trails” in the country.

        Rail trails follow abandoned railroad tracks. Today, there are more than 10,000 miles of rail trails across the country. Ohio leads the Tristate with 410 miles of rail trails; Indiana has about 55 miles, while Kentucky lags bwith only eight, according to Jim Deming, of the Ohio field office of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group with 80,000 members.

        Communities throughout the Tristate are working to build rail trails. In Kentucky, work has started on the Riverpath, a trail that would start in Boone County and wind through Covington, Newport and Bellevue. A group from Dearborn County, Ind.,plans to build a trail connecting Aurora to Lawrenceburg.

        Union Township, in Butler County, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 11 for a 1.5-mile stretch of bike lanes along each side of Cox Road between Barrett Road and McGinnis Park.

        OKI is working on a feasibility study for the Ohio River Trail, a ribbon of hiking and biking land from Lunken Airport to New Richmond. Another ambitious plan calls for a trail 330 miles long connecting the Ohio River to Lake Erie.

        The study's results could give momentum to such projects, said John Heilman, a technical services manager at OKI.

        The village of Waynesville already is using the study to convince reluctant business owners that a connecting trail would benefit them.

        Waynesville is awaiting word on an application to the Ohio Department of Transportation for nearly $50,000 in grant money to build a spoke from nearby Corwin, where the Little Miami trail splits the village.

        Although people on bicycles can't carry home big pieces of furniture, if they like what they see, they can always return to the “Antiques Capital of the Midwest,” this time with trunk space, Mr. Harper said.

        The profile of the average users — college-educated males with disposable income — “are the kind of people we're working hard to market to anyway,” Mr. Harper said. “And they're going right by us.”


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