Non-Motorized Trails and Economic Development

Non-motorized trails provide recreation for thousands of Michiganders each year. The state has 2,712 miles of rail-trail, leading the nation with 119 rail-trails available to the public.  Many more miles await users on other paved paths and boardwalks.

Non-motorized trails are often thought about in terms of recreation, they are also significant components of Michigan’s public transportation system. Because these trails and paths offer a travel mode exclusive to pedestrians and bicyclists, many people choose to walk or ride local trails to work, visit stores, or get to entertainment. Nonmotorized trails can play a large role in serving as part of the menu in the greater transportation system, in connecting to businesses and neighborhoods.  They serve as a complement to on-road bike lanes and sidewalks, transit, and automotive use. This makes trails an important component of a community’s economic development strategy.

On the community level, non-motorized trails are a strong asset for attracting residents and tourists. Users visiting shops and other amenities along trails like the TART Trail in Traverse City have a commute that is just as enjoyable as the destination that awaits them. Instead of riding or walking along the roadway, many non-motorized trails offer the best scenery in the community— and the opportunity to enjoy it at a leisurely pace. Michigan offers unparalleled natural resources and amenities; trails are a great way to get people to see the wealth around them. This is one of the reasons why bike-based tourism is booming in Northern Michigan. The State of Michigan is already looking to take advantage of its premier trail system through its Pure Michigan campaign. Bills are headed through the Senate that would, among other things, allow for the designation of Pure Michigan Trail Towns.

TART Businesses Along the Way

Local businesses along the TART Trails in Traverse City benefit from pedestrian and bike traffic (Photo: Gary Howe)

Local leaders can leverage trails to promote their community for an enjoyable and healthy commute. Studies show that physical inactivity has staggering costs, and more and more people are choosing where to live and visit based on opportunities for physical activity. A healthy commute is a prime example of this demand.

Communities can also use non-motorized trails as a selling point for attracting businesses and can take advantage of the spontaneous growth that occurs around trails. People who use trails are highly likely to visit surrounding businesses. A study by Michigan State University showed that 8 out of 10 trail users on the Pere Marquette Rail Trail visited a business along the way. Tourists on the White Pine Trail spend an average of $85 when visiting the trail. Nick Wierzba, owner of Sutton’s Bay Bikes, saw a doubling of sales after the Leelanau Trail was complete in July of 2012. The Lansing River Trail will be part of two marathon routes that will take place this summer, creating major opportunities for businesses along the trail. Non-motorized trails attract visitors who are ready to spend, and local businesses benefit.

Lansing River Trail

The Lansing River Trail (Photo:

Non-motorized trails provide incentive for people to come live in a community, and are especially attractive to families, young workers, and older individuals. In addition to health and social benefits of walking and riding, non-motorized trails provide homeowners close to trails with an added bump in property value. In Oakland County, Michigan State University’s Land Policy Institute looked at the effects of Green Infrastructure, including trails and paths, on property values. They found that being within a half mile of one of these amenities increased property values by 6.3%. Realtors use trails as a selling point for homes, and homes close to trails are often sought after. “Due to their increasing popularity as a desired “must-have” amenity, trails are a valuable tool for both community revitalization and placemaking.  We find that they quickly rise to the top of the list as communities are updating their master parks and recreation plans.” Nancy Krupiarz, Executive Director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, told us.

Kal River Valley Trail Odyssey

The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail connects natural areas to neighborhoods. (Photo: Gary Howe)

Non-motorized trails are a valuable asset to communities looking to increase tourism, attract residents, promote a favorable business climate, and provide residents with a healthy transportation choice that accents the community’s best features.

Want to know more about non-motorized trails in Michigan? Visit the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance for more information on benefits from improved trails, finding nearby trails, and other ways to get involved with your local trails. For more information on biking and walking in Michigan, visit the League of Michigan Bicyclists and Michigan Complete Streets Coalition webpages.

Written by: Jeff Prygoski, Fellow, Transportation for Michigan





Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s