In 2014, PTNY contributed to the base of knowledge regarding use and impact of the Canalway Trail with the release of the first-ever economic impact report for the ECT in July, summer trail counts at three locations, and October’s successful Bicyclists Bring Business events in Western New York.
First-ever economic impact report shows importance of trail tourism to upstate economy.
On July 14, midway through the annual Cycle the Erie Canal bike tour, PTNY released the first comprehensive study of the Erie Canalway Trail visitor, funded in-part by the New York State Canal Corporation and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. The study found that the Erie Canalway Trail (ECT) experiences more than 1.58 million visits per year. Spending by these ECT visitors generates approximately $253 million in economic impact and $28.5 million in sales and income taxes and supports 3,440 jobs in the local economies within the trail corridor.
According to the study, however, it is overnight stays that have the greatest impact on visitor spending. While overnight visitors to the ECT constitute only 18.25% of the total volume of visits, they generate 84% of overall spending, primarily for lodging and bars and restaurants.
Since July, PTNY has been touting the benefits reported in the study as part of its “Close the Gaps Campaign,” and to inform its soon-to-be launched multi-faceted ECT marketing program aimed at adventure travelers and national and international cyclists. PTNY also hopes that the positive economic results will instill government, business and tourism officials with the confidence to invest in additional ECT marketing, promotion, economic development, and trail enhancement efforts.
Trail counts foster a growing appreciation for a well-used trail system
Counts have been conducted by volunteers along the Canalway Trail System for almost a decade. Most of the efforts have focused on the ECT where since 2007 the count data has been used to project annual estimates of trail visitation at 25 locations. With the addition of annual trail traffic volume estimates of 208,500 persons in the City of Tonawanda in Western New York and 52,991 persons in the Village of Chittenango and 8,063 persons near the City of Oneida in Central New York in 2014, a clearer picture of trail use is emerging.
As might be expected, while trail use varies widely, the most heavily used sections of ECT are those located near large urban centers, such as Niawanda Park in Tonawanda north of Buffalo, Camillus’ Sims Store and Dewitt’s section of Old Erie Canal State Park outside of Syracuse, Schoen Place and Perinton Park near Rochester, and the Corning Preserve in Albany.
Volunteers conducting observational counts also record the type of trail traveler (cyclist, persons pushing a stroller, walker, jogger, etc.) and whether cyclists are wearing a helmet. The results from 2014 in Central New York show cyclists edging out walkers and joggers in terms of share of users, 53% to 45%, and high rates of helmet usage, about 72%. Overall, trail-wide statistics show a larger preponderance of cyclists, who account for 59% of all trail users according to PTNY’s economic impact study. Observed helmet usage rates have varied by year and count location, but, overall, about 60% of Canalway Trail cyclists wear helmets, which exceeds the national average of 50% helmet use. See the 2014 Who’s on the Trail report for more details and analysis.
Bicyclists Bring Business puts data and experience to use for Canalway communities
Bicyclists Bring Business events were held in the Tonawandas on October 14 and 15, highlighting significant local enthusiasm in the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonwanda to serve as a regional cycling hub.
The events, hosted each fall in a Canalway community by PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation, kicked off with presentations and a roundtable discussion at the Niawanda Park Pavilion on Tuesday night. A wide variety of stakeholders from the Tonawandas and the broader western Erie Canal community, as well as seasoned cyclo-tourism experts from Ontario, Canada, provided great perspective on current trail use and generated ideas for increasing trail tourism and trail-related economic development.
On Wednesday morning, B3 participants took the discussion “out of the classroom” with a morning Bike-a-Round through Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, led by Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis and Assistant to the North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Welch. Before heading out, participants reviewed the checklists found in PTNY’s Bicyclist Bring Business guidebook, framing the ride that followed.
Take-aways from both events included an appreciation of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda’s strategic position at the intersection of the Niagara River Greenway, which provides access to Niagara Falls, and the Erie Canalway Trail. In addition, a planned rails-to-trails project will provide a direct off-road connection to Buffalo. They’re location makes the Tonawandas an ideal base camp for short or long-term cycling trips. Beyond the potential afforded by their location, municipal authorities from both of the Tonawandas and the surrounding areas showed a commitment to catering to cyclists, and to educating their constituencies about potential benefits from cycling tourists and recreational users. Participants on the Bike-a-Round noted that you can’t get much better access as a local cycling advocate than biking with Mayor Davis or Robert Welch, assistant to Mayor Ortt.
You can view the B3 report for full analysis of this year’s Bicyclists Bring Business in Tonawanda, including summaries of the roundtable and bike-a-round discussion and recommended next steps for local stakeholders.