2002 User Survey for the Pennsylvania Allegheny Trail Alliance

Uses studied: ,
Place: Boston, Garrett


This study found that destination trailheads for non-local users along this long-distance trail system near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are associated with the greatest spending per person. This study demonstrates that the economic impact of a trail varies along its length, depending on the types of users the trail attracts and how well the local community can capture their business.


The approach of sampling at numerous trailheads provided valuable data, but may be too resource-intensive for many trail studies. However, the findings that visitor spending varies depending on type of user provides an example of the value of identifying which sections of trails and access points have the greatest economic impact potential.


The study is based in western Pennsylvania. The trail section analyzed runs between Boston, Pennsylvania (population 326 in 2013) and Garrett, Pennsylvania (population 366 in 2013). Boston is approximately 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Trail Type

The study evaluated the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and Montour Trail, both rail-trails. The GAP section of interest is 100 miles, and the Montour Trail is approximately 40 miles. The Montour Trail connects to the GAP, which is part of a larger trail system from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.


The purpose of the study is to better understand the economic impact of the trail in individual towns bordering the trail by collecting detailed data on how different sections of a long-distance trail are used. This study was commissioned by the Allegheny Trail Alliance.


Trail users living within 10 miles of the trails accounted for 48 percent of visits to the trail, with these users making seven times as many trips to the trail as users who live 30 miles away or farther. Thirteen percent of trail users stayed overnight. Of those who stayed overnight, the average stay was 2.4 nights.

Spending varied according to how far users traveled and which trailhead they used.

  • Those who traveled less than 10 miles to the trail spent an average of $4 per person per trip, while those who traveled more than 60 miles spent $15 per person per trip.
  • Daily spending ranged from $2.87 to $15.61, depending on the trailhead. Trailheads that are destinations for non-local visitors are associated with the highest spending per user. Trailheads used more by cyclists and anglers, who spend more per trip than walkers, are also associated with higher spending.
  • Total spending was $7.3 million, 22 percent of which was associated with a single trail segment.
  • On average, of all the time respondents spent cycling, 47 percent was on the GAP and Montour Trail. Therefore the authors attribute 47 percent, or $55 per person, of annual spending on bicycles and related equipment to this trail system.


Data were collected from April 15 through November 15, covering the main trail use season. Trail use was estimated using automatic trail counters installed at 11 locations along the trail. The authors provide detailed information about how they analyzed the trail counter data to develop use estimates. This approach allowed the authors to identify which trailheads were destinations likely to attract users from farther away.

Surveys were administered by placing 5,700 mail-in surveys on vehicles at trailheads along the trails, from which they received 2,229 responses (39% response rate). Respondents were asked about their trail use, distance traveled to the trail, spending along the trail, and spending on bicycles and other equipment. From these spending data, the authors estimated the direct and indirect economic impact using multipliers from other studies in the area.


Farber, S., J. Argueta, S. Hughes. 2003. 2002 User Survey for the Pennsylvania Allegheny Trail Alliance. University of Pittsburgh University Center for Social and Urban Research.