Trails to Economic Prosperity

September 29, 2021 | Written by: sanford-user

By John Cotton Dean, Economic Development Manager

Trails and greenways are having a shining moment here in Lee County. From Visit Sanford’s new Trails Brochure to Lee County Government, in partnership with Black Diamond Trail Designs, beginning their trail improvement work at San-Lee Park, the momentum is shifting our normal conversation of which trails we enjoy visiting to the impact that trails have on our community and economy.

While the connection between nature-based trails and public health is well-documented, the relationship between trails and economic vitality is less obvious. Yet, multi-use trails, or those trails that are shared among many users, including walkers, joggers, and bikers, are proven to have positive impacts on local and regional economies, including right here in North Carolina.

According to a recent article in the Economic Development Journal (Brown, L., 19, 1, winter 2020), a North Carolina study found that every $1 spent on the construction of multi-use trails yielded $1.72 in additional impact annually. These positive returns stem from an increase in sales revenues from visitors, increases in local and state tax revenues, business revenue from construction costs, and the combined estimated savings due to increases in physical activity. How many other public projects can claim similar returns on investments?

Along with these economic benefits, by increasing the quality of life of a community, a strong multi-use trail system is a boon for recruiting talent and increasing housing prices. For example, according to the National Recreation and Parks Association, an Area Development magazine annual survey found that, “76% of corporate executives say quality-of-life factors are ‘Very important’ or ‘important’ in their site location decisions.” In addition, a 2018 report from BBC Research & Consulting found that houses sitting within .25 miles from a greenway in northwest Arkansas sell for an average of nearly $15,000 more than those just two miles from the trail.

When considering the growth of Sanford and Lee County’s multi-use trails, we must continue to push ahead to build a system that promotes healthy bodies, minds, and economies. In doing so, it would be worth considering a list of best practices, as suggested by American Trails, a professional organization of trail advocates, and shared by the Economic Development Journal (Brown, L., 19, 1, winter 2020):

  1. Understand your users and identify goals: who use these trails and why?
  2. Take a systems approach: involve a broad range of partners in the planning process.
  3. Start at the heart – downtown: focus on the area with the most existing amenities.
  4. Connect to downtown and amenities: connections are key!
  5. Regional collaboration: again, involve a broad range of partners and think about connections with existing and future networks.
  6. Good design is good business: carefully consider how a future trail will fit within the community’s long-range plan.
  7. Engage artists to tell the story: artists can help tell the story about the history and uniqueness of the trail.
  8. Engage anchor institutions: most successful trails are supported by colleges, museums, and major employers.
  9. Create programming: trails should lead to something!