Tomorrow, Saturday, June 6, is National Trails Day. This is a nationwide celebration of the role trails play in our personal lives, and the well-being of our communities.
Over the past several weeks, Americans have turned to parks, trails, streams, and open space in historic numbers, as a respite from the chaos of our ongoing public health and economic crisis. Here in York County, the 21-mile York Heritage Rail Trail become a magnet for county residents seeking fresh air, healthy recreation, and some mental relaxation, in a setting that lends itself well to social distancing.
That’s why the York County Economic Alliance (YCEA) is proud to announce the launch of the York County Trails Towns program in five communities along the York Heritage Rail Trail: York, Seven Valleys, Glen Rock, Railroad, and New Freedom. The goal of the Trail Towns program is to use the Heritage Rail Trail as a platform for economic development by encouraging hundreds of thousands of annual trail users to venture off the trail and into our towns to patronize local businesses.
The ability to launch this program is made possible through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and was advocated for by Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, who represents the 28th district serving York County. She helped secure a $300,0000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, allowing the YCEA to provide funding directly to projects that support the program, such as wayfinding, promotional materials, educational workshops for businesses, physical improvements, and other projects identified by each community.
“Developing the communities around the Heritage Rail Trail is not only economically wise, but a celebration of a York County asset for our residents, and visitors alike,” said Senator Phillips-Hill. “This process encourages communities and businesses to embrace the trail as an important part of the local economy.”
During the past several months, the YCEA—working in partnership with York County Parks, York County Rail Trail Authority, and Explore York—has conducted dozens of interviews, surveyed the trail-related services and assets in each community, and sketched out a process that will lead to each community officially becoming a “York County Trail Town.” This summer, residents will be engaged in conducting inventories of their towns intended to gather feedback on their community from the perspective of a trail user.
“Although we often don’t think of them as such, trails are incredibly important economic drivers,” said Silas Chamberlin, vice president of community and economic development for the YCEA. “A recent report suggests Pennsylvania’s rail trails generate $930 million in economic impact every year. That’s consistent with what we’ve seen along York County’s Heritage Rail Trail, which—according to a 2017 study—attracted more than 260,000 visitors every year, resulting in a total influx of between $3.5 and $4.4 million into the local economy every single year. The Trail Towns program will help increase that impact.”
York County celebrated new sections of the Heritage Rail Trail in 2019 and anticipates the entire trail completion in 2021. YCEA’s Trail Towns program is part of our overall strategy to boost the economies of the small, historic communities throughout York County. Although the first phase is limited to five communities, future phases of the Trail Towns program could support communities along the Hanover Trolley Trail, such as Hanover and Spring Grove, and communities like Wrightsville, which is emerging as a recreational hub at the crossroads of the Susquehanna River, Northwest River Trail, and Mason Dixon Trail.