Bike trails are money-makers.
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with more than 100,000 members, said its annual Greenway Sojourn in late June generated $117,000 in direct local spending along the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md.
"The towns and the local business people have long been aware of the commercial potential of the trail and its role in supporting local economies," said Tom Sexton, director of the conservancy's Northeast Regional Office and founder of the sojourn.
Sexton said the 292 bicyclists, each of whom paid $575 to join the sojourn, came from 25 states and Canada. He said most of that money stayed in Pennsylvania to pay for food, campsites, local tour organizers and rentals.
According to surveys the cyclists completed after the ride, the youngest rider was 6, the oldest 86. The average age was 53.6, four years younger than last year.
Sexton said each rider spent an average of $224 in Pennsylvania and $152 in Maryland on bike supplies, clothing, sleeping bags and other equipment before or during the sojourn.
Although most meals were prepaid and catered, each cyclist spent an average of $47 on meals while riding through Pittsburgh, McKeesport, West Newton, Connellsville, Ohiopyle, Confluence, Rockwood, Meyersdale, Frostburg, Md., and Cumberland.
Sexton said each rider spent an average of $132 on accommodations in Pennsylvania and $116 in Maryland in addition to $29 on water, soft drinks, snacks, sandwiches, ice cream, alcoholic beverages and souvenirs.
Ninety percent of the sojourners stayed overnight before or after the ride. Most (85 percent) chose a hotel/motel; 6.8 percent stayed in a bed and breakfast or a guest house. On the ride, they preferred camp sites that were close to towns and amenities.
On a scale of 1 to 5, the sojourners gave the passage a 4.3. But 43 percent said the passage needs better signage to towns and local attractions.
Most riders (80.6 percent) said they would return to the area to visit various towns, specifically Confluence, Ohiopyle and Meyersdale. They also mentioned the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Fallingwater and Kentucky Knob, whitewater rafting and annual festivals as highlights.
Sexton said collecting economic data from sojourners "is critically important in helping to make the case to state and federal governments for why they should invest in trails systems."
Jeff Krakoff said the idea for a fundraising ride on an extended Labor Day weekend from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath began after a spirited pick-up soccer game among close friends.
Krakoff, who has had rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years, contacted the Arthritis Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and set up a fundraising page: http://www.crowdrise.com/bikeride/fundraiser/jeffkrakoff.
On Thursday, Krakoff, Craig and Laura Hoffman, Ellen and Jonathan Hart, Peter Chiste, Lori Heinecke, Kurt Meissner and Vic Walczak, all from the South Hills, set out from Boston for the 334.5-mile ride. They're averaging 60 miles a day.
"We're riding to raise awareness of arthritis, [demonstrate] how individuals can make a difference and [remind the public] about the beauty of the trails we are so lucky to have," Krakoff said.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.