Economic Impact Analysis of Orange County Trails

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Place: Orange County

Overview

This study found that development of a trail and associated infrastructure has contributed to the revitalization of downtown Winter Garden, Florida. In this county-wide trail system, the trails with the most access points to businesses had the greatest measurable economic impact, but the complement of trails throughout Orange County–some urban and others natural and quiet–contribute to an appealing regional trail system.

Relevance

This study may be of interest to small cities near large urban centers, that have an opportunity to use trails as a way to attract weekend visitors and attract residents and businesses to overlooked downtowns. The economic impact estimates should be interpreted as very approximate because it is unclear how accurately the authors were able to separate spending by residents, whose spending would not necessarily add new revenue to the community, from spending by visitors, whose spending would add new revenue.

Location

The study was conducted in Orange County, Florida, a metropolitan county in Florida, the county seat of which is Orlando. The authors estimated business impacts for the town of Winter Garden, which developed one of the trails through its downtown specifically as an economic development strategy. In 2013, the county population was 1,175,416 and Winter Garden’s population was 35,750.

Trail Type

The three trails studied represent rural, suburban, and urban trails, connecting neighborhoods to malls, community parks, schools, and businesses located near the trails.

  • Cady Way Greenway is a 6.5-mile long transformed rail greenway that goes from single to double-wide paths, with medians separating pedestrians from bikers. It runs from the most urban part of the county to surrounding neighborhoods and other trails.
  • Little Econ Greenway is a 7.4-mile long rural, paved trail that extends from near the Cady Way Trail through the Econlockhatchee River Greenway, and into rural, undeveloped land. It provides access to recreational opportunities such as fishing and canoeing, and has unique resources such as abundant wildlife.
  • West Orange Trail is a 22-mile long suburban trail that follows the coastline of Florida’s largest lake and extends through downtown Winter Garden. Equestrians frequent the trail, and it is also considered a major destination for cyclists. It has 11 trailheads, and provides access to many special interest sites and businesses.

Purpose

The study examines the three trails’ impacts on both Orange County’s and downtown Winter Garden’s economies, as well the behavior of trail system users. Expansions are planned or envisioned to the trail system, and results from this study will be used to support those efforts.

In 2010 and 2011 Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection contracted the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council to conduct an analysis of the economic impacts of the Orange County Trail System.  The study was funded by Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of Greenways and Trails, United States Forest Service, Orange County, and the City of Winter Garden.

Findings

According to Winter Garden city officials, routing the West Orange Trail through town and installing attractive infrastructure around it has contributed to a downtown with a unique character. This has in turn boosted real estate values, restaurants, and the number of downtown cultural events.

The three trails have very different characteristics and user appeal. For example, while users enjoy one (West Orange Trail) for its access to retail development, another (Little Econ Greenway) is enjoyed for its natural setting. These different values demonstrate the importance of considering the broader trail system and niches that individual trails will fill when they are developed.

Following are the main quantitative findings from user surveys:

  • The trail system has more than 1.7 million visitor days annually, a substantial number given that the population of Orange County is 1.1 million.
  • Nearly 68 percent of survey respondents use the system more than 10 times per year for recreational and fitness reasons, among others.
  • Trail users spent $20 per visit on average, contributing a total of up to $42.6 million to Orange County’s regional economy from visitor spending.
  • Trail use-related spending contributed $5 million annually to downtown Winter Garden’s local economy.

Methods

Researchers distributed an online survey through Survey Monkey to trail users through 34 advocacy and community groups, schools, businesses, and agencies from October 2010 to January 2011 to determine typical trail uses and user spending habits along the trails. In-person surveys were also conducted at various points on the three trails from October 2, 2010–November 28, 2010.  Surveys were distributed online and in hard-copy to 31 businesses to determine the impact of the West Orange Trail on the commercial aspects of downtown Winter Garden.  The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council then used the Regional Economic Model (REMI)—a tool designed to perform local, policy-related economic analyses—to estimate trail-related economic impact.

Citation

East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. 2011. Economic Impact Analysis of Orange County Trails.