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Letter: Trails bring health benefits, spur economic development

Trails bring health benefits, spur economic development

The recent News article, “Ice rinks? Aquatic centers? Nope. Residents want trails,” hit a familiar note. This preference isn’t unique to Tonawanda and Western New York; it’s something that is prevalent in communities across New York State.

It’s no surprise, however, that Tonawanda is at the heart of the movement for more trails. In 2014, Parks & Trails New York recorded over 200,000 visits to the Erie Canalway/Shoreline Trail at Niawanda Park over the course of one year.

On the surface, trails may not seem like obvious revenue generators, but a closer look reveals that trails bring economic development and tourism opportunities and lead to substantial savings on health care and transportation costs. The 1.6 million annual statewide visits to the Erie Canalway Trail produce an economic impact of $253 million and support 3,400 jobs, according to a 2014 report, the Economic Impact of the Erie Canalway Trail. The message that bicyclists bring business has been embraced by communities across the state, notably by Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis, who, as the article notes, has spearheaded a one-of-a-kind amenities facility for trail users. Those investments can multiply the economic impact of trails by enticing cyclists to spend more time eating, sleeping and shopping in trailside downtowns.

Even during construction, trails have the economic edge, creating 17 construction jobs for every $1 million spent, compared with only 12.5 jobs for highway construction.

Erie County’s rates of preventable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are substantially higher than the statewide average, and the county is usually ranked near the bottom of statewide health rankings. Across the state, expanding access to trails reduces the prevalence of these diseases, passing on the savings to residents.

Whether it’s in Tonawanda or Buffalo, trails bring many benefits to communities.

Robin Dropkin

Executive Director

Parks & Trails New York

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