Perkiomen Trail 2008 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis
This study found that the Perkiomen Trail in Pennsylvania is a benefit to locals’ quality of life more than an economic driver, as it is used most frequently by local residents. However, disagreements with adjacent landowners over rights-of-way prior to trail construction linger, and may provide a lesson on the importance of carefully managing adjacent landowner relationships.
This study would be of interest for communities interested in local attitudes about a frequently-used trail. The survey used a “convenience sample,” meaning that those who wished to fill out the surveys placed at trailheads or businesses could do so. This is a commonly used, inexpensive approach, but it leads to a likely overestimate of trail use as the most enthusiastic users are the ones most likely to complete the survey. Additionally, those with the strongest opinions against the trail are also likely to seek out the survey, so the proportion of respondents indicating they disapprove of the trail may be higher than for the general population.
The trail studied runs from Green Lane (population 376) to Norristown (population 34,330) in Montgomery County in southeast Pennsylvania. Norristown is approximately 45 minutes from Philadelphia.
The Perkiomen Trail is a 19-mile rail-to-trail project that connects with several other trails along its length, including the Schuylkill River Trail, a 130-mile trail that connects to Philadelphia.
This study was designed to monitor user characteristics and determine the economic impact of the Perkiomen Trail. Early efforts to develop the trail in the 1990s and early 2000s were contentious due to conflicts with adjacent landowners over land condemnation. This study may have helped to justify the cost of construction as well as the county’s use of condemnation powers to get it constructed. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy conducted the study using a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ “Community and Conservation Partnerships Program.”
The authors estimate that 390,000 users visit various parts of the Perkiomen Trail throughout the year. These users are nearly all local, with 94 percent coming from the Philadelphia metro area. As a result, 60 percent of users who responded to the survey use the trail at least once a week. This also means that spending associated with trail use is relatively low, with the average respondent spending $11 per trip. Only 23 of the 694 respondents stated their visit involved an overnight stay.
Sixty percent of respondents reported that they would be willing to pay a voluntary fee to help maintain the trail, although the survey did not ask follow-up questions about what they would be willing to contribute.
Of respondents who live near the trail and had been opposed to the trail when it was first proposed, 43 percent indicated that their opinion had changed. Of those whose opinion had changed, 89 percent of respondents felt “somewhat more favorable” or “more favorable” toward the trail than they had previously. Twelve percent indicated that they viewed the trail in a “somewhat less” or “much less” favorable light.
The authors used the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s “Trail User Survey Workbook” as a starting point for the survey. The sample was self-selecting and voluntary. Survey forms were available at all official trailheads along the Perkiomen Trail and at merchants who cater to trail users. Respondents mailed the completed forms to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy via the prepaid business reply envelopes. Survey collection was conducted from the end of April 2008 through the end of October 2008.
In all, 694 completed survey forms are included in this study. A response rate cannot be calculated from this survey distribution method.
Knoch, C. and P. Tomes. 2008. Perkiomen Trail 2008 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.