The region’s trail network is paying dividends to the economy with purchases of equipment, food and beverages and overnight stays, according to the first new survey of trail users in four years.
The paved off-street trails hug rivers and former railroad corridors for 330 miles, making it the largest network of connected trails in the country. The survey estimated the annual economic impact at $13 million.
Advocates say there is potential for the trails to become a bigger draw, and not just from locals. Matt Lindsay, manager of environmental planning at Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, said the survey found 15 percent of users are from other parts of Ohio.
Automated counters placed on the trails from Piqua to Washington Twp. tallied 772,353 bikers, hikers and other users over the course of a year.
Laura Loges of the MVRPC, which managed the survey, said the results validate efforts to expand and enhance the network. “People don’t think of Dayton as a big biking community,” she said. “But people come here to ride these trails.”
Use of the trial network by families is growing as large natural areas like the Medlar Conservation Area near the Austin Boulevard Interchange are connected, said Dan Sahli, Outdoor Coordinator for Five Rivers MetroParks.
Downtown workers can be big users, too. Mike Maletic, 50, works downtown and is on the trail daily — even in cold weather like last week.
“It’s just wonderful to have this close to downtown,” he said at RiverScape MetroPark during a stop while hiking on his lunch hour. “It’s one of the major features of working downtown.”
Advocates say the trail network centerpieces downtown as a recreation hub, with spokes in virtually every direction. The Mad River Bikeway Extension was finished in 2013, connecting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University with downtown Dayton.
Businesses with direct access are seeing some of the benefits of a connected trail system. Patrons at the Yellow Springs Brewery, which opened in April 2013, include a large number of trail bicyclists and hikers, said Karen Wintrow, executive director of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber’s office is located on the trail in a replica train station. “What I’ve seen in the summers especially is families and large groups of retired couples and their vacation is traveling around biking,” Wintrow said. “We are one of the popular destinations.”
The last survey was conducted in 2009, when the trail was less well connected, particularly in Miami County. This time, 569 responses were collected compared with 1,754 in 2009. The 2013 survey didn’t include large portions of the trails because Five Rivers MetroParks and the Miami Conservancy District didn’t participate this time.
The survey, held in August, had seven counting sites that included Yellow Springs, Xenia, Whipp Road in Centerville and Community Park in Cedarville.
The chances to for “connectivity,” or linking destinations like towns and cities, is in Greene County, while the biggest gaps remain in Montgomery County, the survey said. Portions of the westward Wolf Creek Trail, the southern Iron Horse Trail and Stillwater Trail remain to be constructed.