Friday, November 23, 2012

The Chester Valley Trail Funding Project is proud to announce that it has been selected for membership in THE CIRCUIT COALITION.

The Circuit Coalition is a collaboration of non-profit organizations, foundations, and agencies working to advance completion of a connected network of trails – The Circuit – in the Greater Philadelphia region.

The Circuit Coalition's goal is to raise the profile of bicycle/pedestrian trails and their public benefits so that building The Circuit becomes a significant regional priority.

When we connect the 750 miles of The Circuit, Greater Philadelphia will have a trail network unlike any other in the country -- connecting the urban, suburban and rural communities of the fifth largest metropolitan region in the US. The Circuit will make our region stronger by providing a place for healthy transportation and recreation, connecting our communities to green space, and making our neighborhoods more attractive places to live and work.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Path To Community

We've discussed trail benefits relating to real property values, resident expenditures, commercial benefits, tourism and, finally, benefits relating to health.  All of these benefits have been measured, codified, and have been the subject of many articles and studies.  One final benefit I’d like to review here though, has not been talked about that much but may be, in the final analysis, the most important of all: a path to a greater sense of community.

Being connected to other people in our community is more and more difficult and unlikely in these days of being insulated by cars, gated communities and busier and busier schedules.  Between the hectic pace of our lives and our increased mobility, it can be difficult for communities to come together in any meaningful way; in other words, there is no ordinary way to meet, greet and “commune” with ones neighbors.  Yet being connected to our neighbors can make us feel happier, safer and even healthier.  It can also lead to better functioning governments and schools. 

Trails can be the viable solution to bringing together people who are living disparate lives.  As people spend more time on a nearby trail, they meet neighbors, discover shared interests and make new friends.  New clubs form to enjoy or care for the trail.  Employees of businesses near trails have the chance to spend a lunch break walking together, ultimately improving teamwork. 

Many have suggested that having a greater sense of community can be one of the solutions to many of modern society’s ills.  Trails can lead us to that greater sense of community.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Health - The Most Important Benefit?

When I started this blog about the Chester Valley Trail and its economic importance, I really did not anticipate that one of the most important aspects of a facility like the Trail would be the economics of health.  The more I have looked into it, the more I realize that trails like the Chester Valley Trail provide value to the community in health terms that rival and even surpass those of other, more commonly referenced, benefits. 
It is for this reason, therefore, that the next few editions of this blog about the Chester Valley Trail Funding Project will concentrate on health and how the Chester Valley Trail will relate to it and benefit Chester County.  The first edition, this one, will deal with walking the Trail rather than biking and how “A Step In the Right Direction”[1] will be of benefit to us all.
It is an important fact that, once a trail is in place within a community, the more it encourages those who might not ordinarily do an activity like walking or biking to do it.  The trail provides a safe, easy and focused place to start active recreation; it beckons the sedate person to use it and become active. 
So, what happens when this ordinarily sedate person uses the Trail to do something like walking?  The list of benefits will surprise you:
           ·          Lose weight – “You won’t find a better way to lose weight than walking”[2]
           ·          Prevent heart disease – Those who do not exercise are twice as likely to have coronary heart disease[3]
           ·          Decrease hypertension – Walking lowers blood pressure[4] and correlates with blood pressure improvement.[5]
           ·          Improve mental health – Walking releases endorphins which are natural tranquilizers and serve to reduce anxiety.[6]
           ·          Slow the aging process – An inactive lifestyle accelerates aging while those who exercise age less rapidly[7]
           ·          Prevent Osteoporosis – “ . . .walking help[s] reverse the negative effects of osteoporosis . . .”[8]
           ·          Prevent and control diabetes – Walking can help prevent diabetes and . . . protect against the degenerative effects of diabetes.[9]
           ·          Improve arthritis – Most people with arthritis can benefit from a regular exercise program.[10]
           ·          Relieve back pain -  Walking prevents and cures the most common kinds of muscular backache, and even some kinds[with] a disk problem[11]
           ·          Improves air quality – A real stretch you say?  Not so: walking can replace short-distance motor vehicle trips, which are the least fuel-efficient and generate the most pollution per mile traveled.[12]

I saved the best for last, though.  “Each time you go outside and walk . . . you will come home feeling better than you did when you left.  Your body will feel better. Your head will feel clearer, and your stress level will have decreased. . . . As you notice improvements in your body and state of mind, you may also want to start eating healthy foods . . . which will encourage you to continue your new healthy habits.”[13]

 Of all the benefits, economic or otherwise, it seems to me that the health benefits of having a vibrant, complete and, yes, healthy Chester Valley Trail are the most important.  More to come on the health benefits of the Chester Valley Trail in future posts; stay tuned.

[1] A Step In The Right Direction, The Health Benefits of Hiking and Trails by the American Hiking Society
[2] Walking for Health, Walking for a Healthy Heart, by the American Heart Association
[3] Edmund Burke, Ph.D., Benefits of Bicycling and Walking to Health (for FHWA), Washington, DC, 1992, p10
[4] Alfred A. Bove, Active Control of Hypertension, The Physician and Sports Medicine, Vol. 26, No. 4,, 1998
[5] Ibid
[6] Bricklin and Spilner, p. 84
[7] Ibid, p. 3
[8] A Step In The Right Direction, Ibid
[9] Bricklin and Spilner, p. 38
[10] Bricklin and Spilner, p. 8
[11] A Step In The Right Direction, Ibid
[12] Burke, p 4
[13] A Step In The Right Direction, Ibid

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that communities build or enhance infrastructures to support more walking and bicycling that will counteract the trends toward sedentary lifestyles mentioned in the last post.  As a consequence, the County Health Department (CCHD) and Chester County Planning Commission (CCPC) are actively developing plans involving the seven municipalities surrounding West Chester, Downingtown and Exton that plan specifically for trails connecting these communities (Central Chester County Bike and Pedestrian Plan; See  

These plans, it is hoped, will become part of each municipalities' planning and zoning regulations supporting trails whenever possible.  The Chester Valley Trail will be a vital part of all these plans. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The last of the economic issues I will address at this point is the one relating to health, or perhaps the lack of it by many Americans who have become sedentary.  Trails have an impact on this issue, both nationally and locally.  I will address the national economic impact of health issues first.

Costs to businesses and individuals of a sedentary lifestyle are, unfortunately, well documented.  The medical costs paid by third-party payers for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has said that “Obesity is common, serious and costly, that more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese, and that obesity-related conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are costing Americans an estimated $147 billion.  (

These costs are avoidable by better dietary habits and exercising more.  Trails provide residents with an easy way to integrate exercise into their lives and, when that happens, money is saved by individuals, employers and businesses, improving not just our bottom lines but our waistlines, too.

Outdoor exercise improves our health and wellbeing and reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and obesity. Improved health prevents nearly $800 million in medical care costs annually.  The economic value increases to nearly $1.3 billion in savings when added to avoided workers’ compensation costs, and costs related to lost productivity in addition to direct use benefits and avoided medical care costs. 

Monday, August 6, 2012


The potential of use of the Chester Valley Trail by tourists should not be overlooked.  The Chester Valley Trail, linking central Chester County to Montgomery County and the commercial shopping hub of King of Prussia to the Northeast, is in a unique position to draw outsiders into the Chester County area.

This can impact the Chester County economic environment in a number of ways: “By providing a trail that attracts residential and business investment, local governments should be able to collect additional tax revenues without making the difficult choice of raising tax rates. Furthermore, in an area that has limited trails, like Chester County, trail implementation should attract residents, businesses and trail users from outside the area. Trails can provide an increase in the number of visitors that directly impacts the local economies. The increase in visitors consequently increases the likelihood of money spent in that location . . . . The attraction of people to an area (potential customers) in turn increases the visibility of local businesses and communities, allowing opportunities for businesses to sponsor events while gaining business exposure.”*
*“Trails and Revitalization: A Study of the Economics Associated With Public Trails” from a presentation by Robert J. Schoutens at the 2006 National Trails Symposium in the Quad Cities of IA and IL 

We have a lot to gain from the potential economic effect of tourism into Chester County that is generated by use of the Chester Valley Trail.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Trails serve not only the general public with opportunities for recreation, they provide a unique opportunity for commercial activities as well.  The entity regulating the trail, in our case the government of Chester County, has the ability to gain revenue from on-site concessions, special permittees, partnerships between government and other groups and with special events.  

What kind of special events you say?  How about a Chester Valley Trail Day in which the Trail is specially set up for bikers going from one end to the other with businesses, charities and service organizations lining the trail to publicize themselves to everyone along the way?  That's just one example.

What has proven truly remarkable in most trail locations is that compatible business ventures have inevitably sprung up along the trail to provide a wide range of visitor services and improvements for trails, often improving the local economy and providing jobs not there before the trail appeared.

In the final analysis, though, how much and what type of benefits a trail might provide depends on the type of trail.  Rural trails have different impacts than do urban trails.  The most economic benefit is realized from trails, like the Chester Valley Trail, that span both urban and rural settings.  Our trail is truly an economic engine waiting to start serving the central Chester County area.

Monday, July 23, 2012


According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission*, the economic activity associated with protected open space in southeastern Pennsylvania results in more than 6,900 jobs and $299 million in annual earnings.  Total annual expenditures in the five-county region surrounding Philadelphia associated with protected open space equal $566 million. Specifically, 33% of that is generated through tourist activity associated alone. Economic activity associated with protected open space generates $30 million per year in state and local tax revenue.
*Return On Environment- the Economic Value of Protected Open Space In Southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Publication No.: 11033B, 3/2011

These economic effects are not found in southeastern Pennsylvania alone. The economic value attributed to trails’ increasing commerce, home values and the overall desirability of a specific region are well documented nationally, too.  For a good summary of them, see: The Business of Trails: A Compilation of Economic Benefits by Terry Eastin, Executive Director, Mississippi River Trail, Inc.  

In nearby Virginia and relating to a trail I always say the Chester Valley Trail closely parallels, the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, a case study prepared by the Virginia Department of Conservation in 2004 stated: "An estimated 1.7 million adult W&OD users spent in total about $12 million annually related to their recreational use of the trail.  Of this amount, about $7 million was spent directly in the northern Virginia economy by locals and non-locals using the trail. The Estimated 1.6 million local visits accounted for about $5.3 million of spending directly related to the use of the W&OD."(Ibid)

So, the potential economic benefit of completion of the Chester Valley Trail means increased home values (previous post) and large expenditures in the local economy of visitors of all kinds.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Historically, the first knock on a proposed trail in most communities is that property owners adjacent to the trail fear that the trail will detract from the value of their residence.  Several studies, both national and local, have proven that exactly the opposite is true

Close to home, a case study by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and the GreenSpace Alliance* in late 2011 showed that residences throughout the area all benefited from close proximity to open space. Homes in Radnor, PA increased an astonishing $69, 139 in value specifically due to their proximity to the Radnor Trail.  Open space adds $16.3 billion to the value of southeastern Pennsylvania’s housing stock; that’s an average of $10,000 additional value for each house.  
*Return On Environment- the Economic Value of Protected Open Space In Southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Publication No.: 11033B, 3/2011

So, the next time someone expresses fear that a proposed trail will adversely affect their property values, tell 'em about the DVRPC study !

Monday, April 2, 2012


I wrote earlier (“History and Direction of the Project”) that I’m meeting with various business and community leaders here in Chester County to discuss the importance of the Chester Valley Trail to them. One business leader I met with asked me to “help him sell” the Chester Valley Trail to his group by showing what the economic potential of the Trail is.  That is a logical place to start the subject of our next topic: What is the economic potential of the Chester Valley Trail?

To answer the question I had to wade through a lot of studies, some of which seemed biased to me, frankly. They were written by authors advocating for trails because it benefited the group they worked for, for instance. Some were subjective and lacked quantitative measurement: “Better quality of life through exercise by using trails” and that sort of thing. While those points of view might be true, what I wanted was measurement of the benefits to a community of a trail and preferably in dollars and cents. Those studies are out there and here’s what I found:
First, there’s no question that trails provide economic benefits to communities; all the studies agreed on that, biased or not. The essence of those studies basically divided the economic benefits of trails into these groups:
  • Real Property Values
  • Expenditures by Residents
  • Commercial Uses
  • Tourism
How much and what type of benefits a trail might provide depends on the type of trail it is.  Is it a trail through a rural part of the country that connects towns by traveling through open areas and wilderness where the trail itself is a tourist destination?  Or is it a trail through a more urban area that is used mostly by local residents and commuters with only some travelers making the trail a destination? Can a trail combine both types of rural and urban trail?

I’m going to provide more detail on each of these benefits in future posts on this blog.  I’m going to cite only the most objective studies I’ve found and provide detail on what we might expect from the Chester Valley Trail as it connects King of Prussia and Valley Forge with the Downingtown area.  In short, I’m going to give business and community leaders the sales tools they need to sell the Chester Valley Trail to their groups so that, together, we can build a better Chester Valley Trail and do it with more citizen and community support.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


In today’s world of reduced funding at all levels of government, leadership is struggling with prioritizing the funds it has and is trying to find ways to make those funds do more.  Inevitably, that means downsizing or, in some cases, eliminating monies for that which is not absolutely essential. 
Faced with these budgetary realities, the Chester County, PA government was reluctant to abandon or downsize a project as important to its citizens as the Chester Valley Trail.  It decided to launch a unique funding initiative that would enable the Chester Valley Trail to still move forward with construction and enhancements, ensuring that the Chester Valley Trail will become a first-class, highly-used rail-trail uniting the highly populated Chester/Montgomery county border area near Valley Forge with Downingtown in the central part of the county.
The Chester County Commissioners asked the Friends of the Chester Valley Trail (, a non-profit organization assisting the Chester County Parks and Recreation Department ( in maintaining and enhancing the Trail, to aid a partnership they wanted to form.  They wanted Natural Lands Trust ( ) to join this effort. The region’s largest conservation organization and a group dedicated to connecting people with nature, Natural Lands Trust would lend its credibility and expertise to a project that would solicit citizen and business support for the Chester Valley Trail.  This effort would leverage the funds Chester County could provide, thereby strengthening the final product and improving time lines for completion.
The Commissioners asked a member of the Friends group, Ben LaGarde, to act as Director of the Project.  After meeting with Chester County and Natural Land's Trust, they decided that the project’s focus would be divided into two main segments: one, funding enhancements to the existing trail segments that run from east of Exton to the border with Montgomery County near Valley Forge, known as Phases 1 and 2 and; two, funding construction of Phases 3 and 4 from east of Exton to Downingtown.  In late 2011, the project received a boost when it obtained a grant from the William Penn Foundation and sponsorship from the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau to help pay for its expenses. 
During the coming months, Ben will meet with various local civic and business groups to discuss the importance of the Chester Valley Trail to their community and explore ways in which they can contribute to this important Chester County linear park.  “Trails like the Chester Valley Trail have a demonstrated beneficial economic as well as recreational impact on people surrounding them,” Ben says.  “The Chester Valley Trail will link central Chester County and Downingtown with the northeastern section of the County. This will connect Chester County to the Schuylkill River Trail and Philadelphia on the east and The Struble Trail on the west, thus helping form a valuable trail network.  This network will act like a ‘new freeway’ would in a road-less area, bringing new visitors and businesses to serve them to the area surrounding the Trail.  Such trails have been well documented in their beneficial economic effects on areas they touch.”