- Beachwood Train Depot, July 21, 1950 by Edward Weber
In today’s entry, we’re going to take a look at two railroad right of ways that have been successfully converted into rail trails, how town officials prepared for the arrival of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists, and the subsequent positive impact on local businesses adjacent to the trail.
These examples are very important to our borough, as our own Central Railroad of New Jersey right-of-way will be connected to the greater Ocean County - Barnegat to Toms River Rail Trail in the very near future, providing our downtown businesses the potential for an economic and cultural revival not seen since early 20th Century residents relied primarily on pedestrian-friendly businesses.
This resurgence of the downtown corridor’s economy will come not only from the 16 miles of communities suddenly within easy and safe recreational access to downtown Beachwood, but also through the hundreds and thousands of other visitors and tourists the trail will attract and drive through town. Our borough in particular has the potential to shine as a knockout trail patron destination, as it is currently the only municipality that can offer a town center with its original structures intact, public docks, public beachfront, and public park overlooking the Toms River and Barnegat Bay within short walking or cycling distance of the trail.
Written by Candus Thomson for the Baltimore Sun
Originally published December 13, 2006 in the Baltimore Sun
CUMBERLAND [MARYLAND] – Once known for being at the end of a famous canal, this city is ready to open a new pathway, one that civic leaders hope will make it a recreation destination and infuse downtown businesses with cash.
Interior of the American Store, undated. This later became Clancy's Pharmacy, and is now home to the Clutter shop.
Feet – hundreds of thousands of them – are expected to pedal and hike the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile converted railroad corridor that connects here with the C&O Canal Towpath, providing a link between Washington and Pittsburgh.
Trail advocates and government officials will celebrate completion of the East Coast’s longest rail trail tomorrow with a ribbon-cutting along the banks of the Potomac River, where the trail and the towpath meet.
Over the past two decades, Marylanders have come to embrace gently undulating rail trails as family-friendly recreation, where walkers and those taking leisurely bike rides feel safe and comfortable because amenities are never far away.
The state has two of the top 10 most popular rail trails in the nation. The 14-mile Baltimore and Annapolis Trail and the 22-mile Northern Central Railroad Trail in Baltimore County each attract 1 million users annually.
This original bungalow, dated here 1916, later became and is today the Beachwood Library.
Supporters of the Great Allegheny Passage believe that the history and culture along Maryland’s 20-mile portion of the trail will be a magnet for families looking for a different kind of weekend adventure.
The new trail, says David Lillard, former president of the American Hiking Society and author of trail guides, “is a great conservation story … and destined to become one of the best-loved multi-use trails in America.”
A City’s Revival
Even in its incomplete state, the rail trail was used last year by about 400,000 people, a number that is projected to triple with the completion, and that’s music to the ears of Cumberland officials.
“The revival of the city is driven, in part, by the trail,” says Mayor Lee Fiedler, who ordered bike racks installed on downtown street corners. “No one thought people with bikes would spend money, but they were wrong. Business is spreading back from the trail.”
Beachwood Library, 2009.
Two bed-and-breakfasts have opened with trail users in mind. The National Park Service is reviewing plans for a riverside campground. Wi-fi blankets the city’s core. A historic railroad hauls bikes up the steepest trail grade to Frostburg. Last summer, weekend nights were filled with outdoor concerts and people eating at sidewalk cafes. A hotel with a bike repair shop is in the works.
“That’s a sizable chunk of tourism for families, building a critical mass of things to do,” says Richard Pfefferkorn, executive director of the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority in Cumberland.
This city of 21,000 has long been known as the terminus of the 185-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, built from 1828 to 1850 to ferry goods and passengers. But civic leaders acknowledge that that distinction hardly made their community a destination.
“In Cumberland, you have to have more than where people start and people stop. Before the trail, visitors would come in Friday afternoon for a matter of 20 minutes and be off on the towpath. The economic benefit was rather small,” says Fiedler, a retired business executive in his second term.
City officials and merchants began to see a change last fall, when the Great Allegheny Passage closed to within a few miles of downtown. Although detours on local roads from Frostburg were hard and dangerous, people began making the effort.
Disbrow's Market, 1947. This became Clancy's Video after closing in 1988, and now sits vacant waiting for a new life.
Two years ago, Gail Shofer Hall, a former Baltimore resident, began booking upscale bicycle tours for middle-age weekend warriors “who want to be spoiled.” In October, she opened The Inn on Decatur, four blocks from Mile Marker One, the trail’s beginning.
“We’re at the quasi-half point between Pittsburgh and Washington,” she says. “You’ve pedaled more than 100 miles, you want a little downtime.”
Outsiders took notice. Two regional hiker-biker guidebooks included the trail this year, and the Web site BikeWashington.org dubbed it “the crown jewel of the Mid-Atlantic rail trails.”
Railroad Avenue, Beachwood.
The move to convert never-used or abandoned railroad corridors began in the 1960s, as people began to look for places to walk or bike away from motorized traffic.
Today, there are more than 13,000 miles of rail trails, with another 14,000 miles in the planning stages, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Maryland has 21 rail trails that cover 115 miles, with another 24 trails totaling 264 miles in the planning stages.
When the first section of the Great Allegheny Passage – a nine-mile stretch at Ohiopyle, Pa. – opened 20 years ago, “it showed that if you build these trails, they will be used by locals but also attract tourists,” says Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, an umbrella for seven trail groups.
Momentum gathered. In fall 2002, Maryland officials spent $875,000 for 4.8 miles of right of way from the Mason-Dixon line to Frostburg.
Disbrow's Market building, 2009.
But as they stitched the pieces together, trail advocates knew they’d have to deal with a gaping maw: the 3,300-foot Big Savage Tunnel, one mile north of the Maryland line. Built in 1911 and abandoned in 1975, the tunnel was dank and riddled with water damage, but it provided a vital bypass across the Eastern Continental Divide and through 2,375-foot- high Savage Mountain.
It took five years for the trail groups to raise $12 million to restore the tunnel, which opened in May. It is to be closed from December to April every year to keep the elements from destroying the walls, lighting and drainage system.
Trail work remains near Pittsburgh and McKeesport, and there’s more to do to help towns create a smooth-running economic engine, Boxx says.
Towns along the trail are being encouraged to think of it as a second Main Street, and to begin improving hospitality and other services to take advantage of new business. Boxx envisions hiring a “circuit rider” to help communities develop marketing plans and plan joint events.
Fiedler says he can hardly wait until spring.
“It ties into the other things we’re doing,” says the mayor, sitting at a downtown coffee shop. “We’re not a place you’ll go to stay for a week, but if we can get you to stay two or three days, we’ll be very happy.”
Trails are an important part of community well-being in many areas.
By Gary Sjoquist
Photos of World War II Servicemen from Beachwood, as they originally hung in the Beachwood Circle Shop, now Carpet Land. In the center is then-mayor Joseph Jerue.
During warm weather months in Minnesota, nearly 1.5 million cyclists, inline skaters, and walkers use our nationally-recognized city, county, and state trails. In fact, these trails are a quality of life issue for residents, as well as luring tourists from neighboring states who don’t have access to the number and variety of trails we have in Minnesota. Other than a quality of life issue, our trails are an economic boon to the state as well.
Lanesboro, on the Root River Trail in Southeastern Minnesota, is an often-cited example of the economic impact a trail can have. Pre- and post-trail Lanesboro, a town of about 800 residents, differ dramatically. Post-trail Lanesboro boasts 12 B&Bs (with year-long waiting lists), 8 restaurants, an art gallery, a museum, and a thriving community theater well-off enough to offer housing to its actors. Economically speaking, the Root River Trail has been very, very good for Lanesboro.
A specific example from Lanesboro can provide further insight. The bike shop in Lanesboro, a small “mom and pop” kind of a place, sold 60 tandem bicycles in a single year (more than the Twin Cities largest multi-store bike retailer that same year). Now, few people would go to Lanesboro to specifically purchase a not-inexpensive tandem bicycle. Rather, this is an indication of people who are having a good time, want it to continue, and are willing to spend the money to spend quality time on the trail. This kind of “impulse” purchase bodes well for retailers along our trails.
Nationally, trail-related expenditures range from less than $1 per day to more than $75 per day, depending on mileage covered. Generally, it’s been found a trail can bring at least one million dollars annually to a community, depending on how well the town embraces the trail. For a town like Lanesboro, a trail can mean an annual economic impact of more than five million dollars.
Greene's Economy Store, circa 1921. Today it is threatened to be demolished as part of the Rite Aid proposal, along with the former Beachwood Circle Shop and a half dozen other structures.
Another aspect has to do with how trails affect property values and the general attractiveness of an area. Studies have shown that 70% of landowners felt that overall, an adjacent trail was a good “neighbor,” with positive impacts including 1) getting in touch with nature (64%), 2) recreational opportunity (53%), and 3) health benefits (24%).
Furthermore, 70% of real estate agents use trails as a selling feature when selling homes near trails. 80.5% of them feel the trail would make it easier to sell. In Minnesota, 87% of home owners believe trails either increased the value of their homes or had no impact. On Seattle’s most popular trail, homeowners with properties near, but not adjacent to the trail, sold for an average of 6% more than comparable property elsewhere. Additionally, the U.S. National Parks Service notes that increases in property values range from 5 to 32% when adjacent to trails and greenways.
To better estimate potential economic impact, it’s important to understand a demographic profile. Overall, trail users average about 48 years of age, are more likely to be male, have completed college, with annual household incomes between $35,000 and $75,000. In Minnesota, trail users have median incomes $10,000 higher than average; good news for the communities along the trail.
With trail users relatively affluent, mobile, and interested in spending quality time with families, trails provide a perfect “getaway” adventure. Having access to trails has changed how families recreate, with people taking shorter but more frequent “vacations” closer to home and with a more family-oriented focus.
Trails have also allowed these escapes to include a wider variety of family members. Thanks to our mostly paved trails, and the advent of bicycle trailers, “trail-a-bikes,” and comfort bikes, it’s not uncommon to see an entire extended family – children, teens, parents, and grandparents sharing an outdoor recreational activity. While not an “economic” benefit, necessarily, this is still an important “value added” component trails bring to our state.
For more information, contact the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota at: 651-726-2457 or 1-800-944-0707 (outside Minnesota) 275 E. 4th Street #642, St. Paul MN 55101-1651 — e-mail: email@example.com