State College — Pennsylvanians took to trails and greenways in unprecedented numbers during March and April, according to an analysis of 67 non-motorized trail systems throughout Pennsylvania.
Research commissioned by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) found that trail traffic spiked by as much as 200 percent in some areas during March of 2020 when compared with the same period during the previous two years. The sharp increase coincides with the statewide closure of schools, businesses, and public gatherings, indicating a surge in demand for access to public lands and outdoor recreational assets amid the lockdown.
“When people started to flood the trails in early March, PEC staff had a conversation about what all of the people on trails might mean,” Trails and Recreation Program Director Frank Maguire said. “As PEC works to support more and better trails throughout the Commonwealth, this moment seemed to hold the promise of a new awareness of the power of trails, as well as a chance to further highlight ongoing concerns around limited access, delayed maintenance and confusion around trail etiquette.”
Researchers looked at data from trail counters from 33 locations across the state, charting an average 52-percent increase over March 2019 numbers, and an increase of 97 percent over 2018. Combined with the results of a survey of 80 trail managers, the data paint a striking picture of Pennsylvanians in both urban and rural areas seeking solace, fresh air, and exercise in the outdoors.
“Every day is like a weekend day now,” Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails President John Wengert said. “All of our parking lots have been full, and we have big parking lots!”
Along with the uptick in visits, trail managers also reported new challenges including overuse and crowding, littering and illegal dumping, and delays in seasonal maintenance. While a majority characterized impacts as “mostly positive,” managers of long-distance “destination” trails reported more difficulties than their counterparts managing shorter, local trail routes. Negative impacts were largely economic, as trailside businesses primarily serving through-riders struggled with the abrupt dropoff in tourism spending.
“These findings underscore how vitally important trails are, not just to Pennsylvania’s economy, but to the health and wellbeing of our communities,” Maguire said. “At a time when state and local funding for outdoor recreation looks uncertain, we hope decisionmakers will recognize that value and prioritize public lands and trails as a critical part of the economic recovery.”
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About the Pennsylvania Environmental Council
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is a statewide organization that brings people, government, and business together to find real world solutions for environmental challenges. These solutions bring about sustainable communities, protect our water resources, and address energy and climate issues. PEC was founded in 1970 and serves the entire state through offices in Luzerne, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College.
For more information, visit www.pecpa.org.