When Steve Buchtel, executive director of Trails for Illinois, gave his highly entertaining keynote address at the 2013 Illinois Bike Summit in Normal, Illinois, in May, he underscored the importance of numbers to the promotion of trails in Illinois.
Numbers make the triple bottom line of trails—profit, people and planet—easier for community leaders to understand, but until recently, Illinois residents didn’t have any numbers to study.
Now we do, in the form of Making Trails Count in Illinois. You can download and study the report, a one-page summary and other documents online.
For me, the message of the report is simple: towns that support their trails can improve their finances, get people back in contact with nature and help those same people enjoy better health.
Trails help towns make money? I’d say that was my experience after riding the Constitution Trail the morning of the summit. By the time I left to return home, I had purchased a tankful of gas, a beer for the mayor—the latter, something that would never occur to me to do in Peoria—and that pair of MKS pedals in the picture. (Bananas and ruler included for scale; most pictures of these pedals make them look enormous.)
Normal is a bigger community than the Rock Island Trail towns of Dunlap and Princeville, but the effect is the same: the money I spent recirculated inside the area, and the taxes I paid went to Normal’s bottom line.
Having experienced a bit of the trail, you can bet I’ll be back, too.
If I was a community leader in one of the Walmart-weakened towns along the Rock Island Trail, I’d be very interested in the confirmation that people spend money locally when using Illinois trails–and try to figure out ways to encourage more visits by trail users. (They even spend money in locally owned businesses in Walmart-mad Peoria.)
And they tend to have higher-than-average incomes.
Sounds like opportunity, doesn’t it?
Roads count, too: While not the subject of the report, communities with good road networks can also benefit from bicycle-related tourism. The minds behind The Path Less Pedaled, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford, have been promoting that idea in Oregon, and I’ll confess to happily spending more than a few dollars in locally owned Door County, Wisconsin, businesses over the past quarter-century.