Business owners, trail partners and community members along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (EPT) have been invited to summit meetings for updates on their respective trails and the economic benefits they bring to their communities.
The first meeting, a three-stage event that will focus on group tourism and packaging, will be Monday at the Voodoo Brewery at 205 E. 9th Avenue in Homestead.
Borough manager Ian McMeans will lead a walking tour of the community from the brewery beginning at 12:30 p.m. Among other things, McMeans will note the addition of new businesses in recent years and the presence of bike racks to welcome cyclists to town.
The “official” meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m., said Will Prince, program manager of the Trail Town Program that is organizing the open-to-the-public meetings. Panelists will include representatives from Steel Valley Heritage Tours, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, Pittsburgh Tours and More, and Venture Outdoors.
Prince said the summits are designed to provide participants with networking opportunities and the Trail Town Program will help out by playing host to a happy hour beginning at 3 p.m. at the brewery. Studio AM in Homestead will provide hors d‘oeuvres. The cost is $5.
Prince said the second summit meeting will be held from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 4 at the De Bence Antique Music World, 1261 Liberty Street in Franklin. He said it will focus on business financing and grant opportunities.
Panelists will include representatives of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development section and Farmers National Bank.
To reserve a seat, contact project coordinator Courtney Mahronich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-216-9160, Ext. 316.
“Walk-ins are welcome,” Prince said.
So what do trails mean to the towns they pass through, as well as nearby communities?
According to the Trail Town Program, an initiative of The Progress Fund, non-motorized multi-purpose trails such as the GAP and the EPT generate money, jobs and opportunities.
Prince said surveys taken in 2014 of 562 GAP trail users and 45 GAP businesses showed an overall increase in trail user traffic from 34 percent in 2013 to 41 percent in 2014. He said trail users staying overnight spent an average of $124; the average day, trail users spent $18 per day.
He said 27 percent of the owners surveyed plan to expand their businesses because of the trail.
Prince said surveys taken of 26 businesses between Titusville and Foxburg, the longest completed segment of the EPT, showed that they attributed 19.15 percent of their business to the trail in 2014, almost double the 10 percent they recorded in 2013.
He said 46 percent of those business owners said they plan to expand their businesses because of the trail.
Information: http://www.trailtowns.org/1studies.aspx; email@example.com; 724-216-9160, Ext. 318.
May, September and October are the most popular months for bicyclists to pedal 150 miles along the GAP from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., and/or 184.5 miles along the C&O Canal Towpath from Cumberland to Washington D.C.
If that’s your goal, and you don’t plan to camp along the way, the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau recommends you make your overnight accommodations now.
Ann Nemanic, the bureau’s trail concierge, said B&Bs and guest houses are filling up, especially on weekends. She said there has been a 20 percent increase in inquiries about the GAP so far this year when compared with recent years.
Information: www.GAPtrail.org (1-888-282-2453); www.laurelhighlands.org (724-238-5661).
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.