Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition

If a trail is a path, what is it a path to? From Point A to Point B? Better health? More green space? All of these are reasons that a coalition of trail advocates aim to complete and connect 1,450 miles of trails.

The vision of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (I Heart Trails or IHTC) is a network of off-road, multi-use trails that connect many of the major centers of what was America’s Rust Belt.

The IHTC vision will span 48 counties across 4 states, from deep in western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio, and reaching into the south-western corner of New York state. IHTC’s will connect trails to four different cities: Cleveland, Akron and Ashtabula in Ohio, Morgantown and Parkersburg in West Virginia, and Pittsburgh and Erie in Pennsylvania. By connecting trails, IHTC will also connect small towns, regional assets, and various destinations allowing locals and visitors to be able to bike, run or walk from trail to trail, city to city, and town to town.

When the coalition was formed in 2013, nearly half of the 1,450+-mile network was already in place. There are now eight mega-corridors made of individual trails which IHTC plans to connect, creating the trail network in the years to come. The goal of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition is to have the vision completed by 2033.

The network’s vision means new economic opportunity and vitality across the region. Trails are increasingly showing their power in community transformation through trail users, visitors and locals promoting economic activity. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh, a system more frequented by residents, has shown a $7 million annual economic impact. Where visitors frequent the trails, a 2013 survey found that they are spending an average of $337.50 on hard goods (bikes, racks, helmets, etc.) and $21.62 per person per visit on soft goods (meals, snacks, bike rentals, etc.). The study also found that 13% of visitors paid for overnight accommodations. Trails mean business and that is important in communities large and small across the I Heart Trails region.



Through working together, trail advocates are building a connected identity for a region whose communities are attached by a shared past, present and future: of innovation, steel, agriculture, manufacturing, reinvention, renewal, and innovation. Upon its completion, this system will become the largest multi-use trail network in the United States and will serve as a centerpiece of revitalization.

August 15, 2017

I ❤️ Trails Community Chats

Connecting communities to some of their best assets

Memories are made on trails. We teach our kids to bike. We walk our dogs. We go on our own cycling adventures or meet people who are biking through. Trails can also contribute to community vitality when when businesses make efforts to cater to visiting trail users.

For all of these reasons, the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (IHTC or “I Heart Trails,” for short) partnered with local trail and community development organizations to host workshops in four communities this fall:

  • Corry, PA
  • New Philadelphia, OH
  • New Castle, PA
  • Steubenville, OH

The events opened with a 15-minute “micro-film screening,” followed by conversation about local trail needs and how to better accommodate visiting trail users. Participants also went outside to assess the local business district in terms of walkability and visitor readiness.

April 4, 2017

IHTC: Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

Debra Frawley, PEC Trails & Recreation Program Coordinator

Building a Destination

Trails are community assets that attract people to visit our region and make it easier for residents to be active for recreation and exercise. They provide views of scenic river expanses and dramatic cliff faces, offering city-dwellers a means of escape from the stress of urban life. Passing through tunnels and across former railroad bridges, and within sight of artifacts from an earlier time – like old coaling towers or turntables – trails serve as a living connection to our region’s industrial heritage. Yet, unlike many of the local economies those industries once anchored, trails are here to stay. They are resources that cannot be exported or outsourced.

For all of these reasons and more, PEC is proud to be part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (I Heart Trails or IHTC for short), a multi-state coalition of trail advocates including government, non-profit, and private foundation entities working to create a shared-use system of trails that will ultimately connect 48 counties in western Pennsylvania, New York, eastern Ohio and West Virginia. IHTC stakeholders are united by a shared vision of trail-linked communities comprising a larger regional destination, allowing local and visiting trail users to bike from trail to trail, city to city, and town to town. We are already nearly halfway to our eventual goal of more than 1,450 miles of trails.


untitiled-woodward-toddThe Power of Collaboration

Trail groups and supporters across the region understand the power of banding together to build on one another’s successes. We believe that linking major destinations — Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Morgantown, Erie, Akron, Parkersburg, and the towns and country in between — will benefit the broader region and individual trail projects alike.

These benefits are not limited to improving quality of life for residents – indeed, the overall economic impact from trail users has proven to be significant.  For example, a 2013 study on 66 miles of existing trail sections along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail corridor showed an annual impact of $7 million in just four small towns.  As individual trails are connected to create longer routes and varied experiences of small towns, rural natural areas and big cities, that impact will also increase.  Small businesses are already springing up to provide services for trail users, and existing businesses are serving new customers as the region evolves into an interconnected trail destination.

With more than 600 miles of trails already connected, IHTC is well on its way to realizing its vision by the target date of 2033. This success is a direct result of the cooperative and collaborative way in which our membership is organized. The Coalition itself is not on the ground building the trail; rather it helps local trail advocates gain the capacity to build trails and connect to each other.  IHTC markets the larger vision, makes the case for funding, provides GIS and other planning tools, and collects data on user counts and business impacts to help bolster the economic case for trail development at the local level.


The Trail Ahead

dsc02848Looking forward, I Heart Trails will continue working to identify gaps in the system and what will be needed to close them. Members will continue assisting one another through working groups in each of the eight corridors, using the expertise and skills they have gained by solving problems on their own trails.

For more information, we invite you to visit and follow our progress on Facebook at

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