The benefit of a rail-trail to a community is multi-fold—not only for the localities where the trail is developed, but for the entire region and even state. Rail-trails connect communities and create accessible and safe spaces for residents and visitors to enjoy activities such as biking, walking and birding. In addition, local governments, especially smaller, more rural communities, recognize rail-trails as a great strategy to promote tourism and create jobs. Rail-trails and many of the compatible businesses that emerge along these corridors contribute significantly to local economics.
We don’t need to look far for examples of trails that significantly benefitted communities. The 57-mile New River Trail (above), in southwestern Virginia, sees about 1 million visitors annually and contributes over $15 million to the local economy. Similarly, the 31-mile High Bridge Rail-Trail in Farmville, Virginia, is referred to as the economic engine and backbone of the community.
To gauge how the Shenandoah Rail Trail would benefit localities along the corridor, the Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership (Partnership) contracted Chmura Economics and Analytics (Chmura) in April 2019 to conduct an economic impact analysis. The analysis includes an estimate of the potential number of trail visitors to the trail, impact of trail construction and maintenance and an estimate of consumer spending.
The final report states that construction and maintenance of the trail, as well as spending by visitors to the trail, will generate significant economic impact in Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. The final report makes the following estimations:
Construction will cost $14.4 million and create 80 jobs
Trail maintenance will cost about $75,173 per year
Visitors will spend from $10.8M to $15.5M per year
98-140 new jobs will be created
$245,661 – $351,443 per year in combined tax revenues for counties and towns along the trail
The Partnership, while confident in the quality of Chmura’s work, feels these estimates are conservative. The study quantifies estimated impacts for only Shenandoah and Rockingham counties where the trail is proposed. But we know additional economic value will accrue in neighboring communities like Harrisonburg, Winchester and Frederick County, making statewide impacts significantly higher than the estimates reflected in the analysis.