Perhaps the most startling finding from the recently released study of users of the
Great Allegheny Passage
(GAP) trail, which runs 151 miles from Homestead to Cumberland, Maryland, is that the majority are not
youthfully vigorous and relatively job-free, with time for hiking and bicycling. They are the older and richer folks -- but still job-free because they're retired.
In fact, slightly more than 50 percent of trail users are 45-64 years old, and most are retired with incomes above $100,000 per household.
Also pretty surprising: The Pittsburgh region contributes the younger people using the trail -- the 16- to 24-year-olds who use it around West Newton and the 35- to 45-year-olds who enjoy the trail around Homestead and Connellsville.
Whatever their ages, says William Prince, in charge of the survey as coordinator of the Trail Town Program
for The Progress Fund, "trail users are making an impact on the trail businesses" in towns along the GAP. Greensburg's Progress Fund, which makes small-business loans for tourism and agriculture, is happy that businesses along the trail route say nearly a third of their revenues come from trail users. That's up 23 percent from the similar survey in 2008.
"There are people who use it every day from the region and there are also people using it who come from across the region, the country and the world," says Prince, pointing to users the survey traced from Seattle, for instance.
And just as in 2008, 20 percent are first-time users. "We know trail use is increasing and finding out about it is increasing," he says. For the 80-percent enjoying a repeat visit, the draw is everything from recreation and health-related jaunts to day trips and full-length vacations. Nearly 30 percent of GAP visitors stay overnight (more than 80 percent for more than one night) in local campgrounds and bed-and-breakfast places, less often in hotels.
The trail is almost completed, save for a stretch of less than a mile near Sandcastle that has a few legal kinks to work out. It also now has at least three loop or extension trails and connects to the C and O Canal Towpath to take users 184 more miles to Washington, D.C.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: William Prince, The Progress Fund