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Those still railing about the rail trail should choo on this

It’s time to get moving when it comes to what promises to be one of the most unique rail to trail conversions in the United States. My faith in the Adirondack Rail Trail’s impact is based on having biked several thousand miles of rail trails in multiple states, all the while bearing witness to the invigorated lifestyles of local folks and the economic impact rail trails have on communities thru which they pass.

And yet, we are still getting letters to the editor citing specious reasons to keep the tracks. Every sentence in the most recent keep-the-rails letter was full of absolutisms that have no basis in fact. Let’s look at some studies done on the economic impact the New River Trail has had on Galax, Virginia, and the Virginia Creeper Trail has had on Damascus, Virginia — small towns very much like our Tri-Lakes communities far from big cities and surrounded by forest wilderness. This information is based on a study done by the Economic Development Studio at Virginia Tech.

“Although Galax (population 6,775) has a diverse tourism base (as do our Adirondack towns), most businesses are still in some way affected by trail use. The average percentage of business revenue attributed to the trail by survey respondents is 8%. This percentage has opportunity for growth in attracting new business development based on the trail. In 2010, the total tax revenue attributed to the trail was approximately $238,279 or 2% of the 2010 total tax revenue. Broken down by type of tax, the 8% of the hotel and motel tax revenue, 9% of the meals tax revenue, and 7% of the sales tax revenue were attributable to the trail. … (T)he trail influenced a large percentage (47%) of respondents to buy a bike. For those respondents who provided a dollar value, the average party expenditure was approximately $133 for privately owned lodging, $13 for publicly owned lodging, $44 for food and drinks consumed at restaurants or bars, $32 for other food and drinks. Trail users spent approximately $43 for gasoline, oil, and repairs, $1 for other transportation, $2 for bicycle rentals or service, $0.40 for horse rentals, and $3 for trail use, entry, or parking fees.

“The average proportions of local, non-local in state, and out of state customers are as follows: on average, 45% are local customers, 15% are non-local, in-state customers, and 40% are out of state customers.

“Economic impact from trail use in Damascus is significant and strongly correlates with the character of the town. Results from the surveys, interviews, and data provided by the Town of Damascus reinforce the economic importance of the Virginia Creeper Trail to livelihood. One business owner stated, ‘There is not a business in the community that is not impacted by the trail users. Although some do not cater to the tourist/trail user directly, they all cater to the owners and employees of the tourist/trail user business, all of whom would not be living in the community if not for the trail. Over half of the businesses surveyed said more than 61% of their income is from trail use. Using the average proportion of income that businesses estimated to be due to trail user spending from the business survey, the analysis team extrapolated the amount of town meals and lodging tax revenue collected thanks to the Creeper Trail. … Those businesses that pay meals and lodging taxes are very dependent on tourism for their revenue.

“On one Fall Saturday, there were as many as 2,500 (to) 3,000 tourists from as far as Florida and Georgia who were biking the Creeper Trail. A few of those trail users specifically commented on the character of Damascus, appreciating the lack of big chain stores and the relaxed feel. 51% of users said they visited the Creeper Trail a few times a year, revealing a crowd of regulars, many of which are further away than just a day trip.”

Finally, those who rail about the Adirondack Rail Trail being too remote to attract visitors should choo on this, from a study done on the Virginia Creeper Trail by Virginia’s Conservation Department: “Nonlocal users, on average, traveled 260 miles with an average travel time of 4.6 hours. … Seventy-two percent of VCT users were in the area for the primary purpose of visiting the VCT.”

Ken Youngblood lives in Saranac Lake.