Report counts $253M in economic impact from canal trail

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Canal communities urged to cater to cyclists

Photos by Tom Rivers – These four cyclists pass through Hulberton on Sunday, headed west to Albion where they said they would be staying at Dollinger’s Motel.

A new report that measures the economic impact of the Erie Canalway Trail counts $253 million in annual economic activity from the trail, with cyclists providing the bulk of that impact.

A study commissioned by Parks & Trails New York, a not-for-profit park and trail advocacy organization, found that the 360-mile-long trail also supports 3,440 jobs in canal communities through visits by 1.58 million people.

Communities can better capitalize on the trail with improved signage, amenities and lodging, according to the report. If visitors stay overnight, they spend far more in the community. Overnight guests represent 18 percent of the trail visitors, yet they generate 84 percent of overall spending.

Chris Van Dusen isn’t surprised to see the big numbers associated with the report. He opened Trailside Bicycles in Hulberton in June 2013. He sees one or two boaters pass by on the canal most days. However, he sees far more cyclists, typically 20 to 40 a day.

“Cyclists will be the lifeblood of the canal,” he said.

The village of Albion recently added four new bike racks to make the downtown more accommodating to visitors on bike. This bike rack is near the First Presbyterian Church.

Some cyclists travel in organized rides. Others travel on their own. Van Dusen believes Orleans County and other canal communities could be more welcoming and entice the cyclists into their downtowns to spend money. Each canal town should have signs pointing to lodging, restaurants, showers and other points of interests, said Van Dusen, who worked as a professional cycling guide.

“The general community doesn’t have any idea of the volume of traffic on the trail,” Van Dusen said. “The Baby Boomers are giving up their golf clubs and getting on their bikes.”

Day-trippers spend an average of $26.37 per visit on the canal, according to the report, while overnight visitors spend $531.47 per person. For the overnight visitors, 47 percent of their spending goes to lodging or camping fees, with 26 percent spent at bars and restaurants.

Cyclists stop in Albion on the Main Street lift bridge during the July 14 “Cycling the Erie Canal” ride.

The canal trail has tremendous name recognition, yet other trails are more popular because of the amenities for cyclists. That includes coordination with bus and train companies at the beginning and end of trails some cyclists can easily bring their bikes back to a car near where they started their ride.

Van Dusen said the Great Allegheny Passage between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, Pa., should be viewed as a model for being bike-friendly. The Katy Trail in Missouri has also been successful in drawing more cyclists than the canal trail, according to the report.

The Erie Canal trail could use more mile markers to let cyclists know how close they are to villages and canal towns, Van Dusen said.

Even with some shortcomings, the canal trail is popular and sought out by cyclists for its tranquil ride.

“People just love it,” Van Dusen said. “They can go on autopilot and not worry about cars and traffic.”

For more on the report, click here.