POTTSTOWN — It’s a simple truth, one that Kurt Zwikl repeats often: the longer a trail, the more people it attracts.
So perhaps that’s why as executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Association, he is so excited about the nearly $10 million of work being planned for his trail along the Schuylkill River.
Listed among hundreds of projects approved for funding in Pennsylvania and New Jersey by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, two relatively little items in Chester County are big news in terms of the Schuylkill River Trail.
Though small, they form crucial connections between two completed portions of the trail — from Mont Clare to Phoenixville and from Parker Ford to Pottstown.
The lesser project is a $1.3 million plan to modify the Route 29 bridge over the Schuylkill, linking Mont Clare with the only remaining functioning section of the Schuylkill Navigation lock and canal system to Phoenixville, making room for the trail to cross between Montgomery and Chester counties.
Work on the project is expected to begin in fiscal year 2015.
The second project is long awaited — the 9.8-mile portion to link the trailhead at Township Line Road in East Pikeland to the Route 422 bridge over the Schuylkill River now being built.
That bridge will carry the trail over the Schuylkill River and connect Montgomery and Chester counties at Pottstown.
“Literally, not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me when the trail between Phoenixville and Pottstown will be completed,” Zwikl said.
Work on that portion of the trail is scheduled for 2017 and is estimated to cost $8.4 million.
These 10-miles of trail work will make the trail continuous from Philadelphia all the way to Reading.
And that means dollars.
“The longer the trail, the longer they stay, the more money they spend, it’s that simple,” said Zwikl.
So what kind of numbers are we talking about?
In York, a 21-mile trail generated $6.2 million in economic activity in 2007.
The 12-mile Allegheny-Highlands Trail generated $12.1 million in 2002.
Closer to home, the 19-mile-long Perkiomen Trail in Montgomery County hosts nearly 400,000 unique visits each year and those visitors generate an estimated $19.8 million in economic activity.
In 2010, the heritage area hosted a “Trail Towns” Conference in Pottstown, where the economic benefits of a completed Schuylkill River Trail were explored in depth.
Todd Poole, president of 4ward Planning LLC, told the conference trails can mean big money.
The Schuylkill River Trail generated $7.3 million in direct economic impact in 2008 and another $3.6 million in indirect impact, Poole said.
The trail attracted 802,239 visits that year.
“Consider that the Reading Phils had attendance of 436,789 that same year, so 800,000 people is pretty impressive,” Poole said. “Now we all have to think about that group of people as a market.”
That market, he said, is primarily the baby boomer generation.
Along the trail, there are 55 ZIP codes and a population of 1.2 million.
The age group of 39 to 65 — the group most likely to engage in heritage and cultural tourism — represents nearly 40 percent of that population, has a median income of $47,473 and nearly 39 percent of them have advanced degrees.
“Those aren’t bad demographics,” Poole said.
Further, the number of workers within three miles of the trail is steadily rising, increasing by 73,000 in 2008 alone.
Of those workers, more than 82,000 are professionals, technical workers or in scientific fields, a category of people “more likely to use the trail,” according to Katherine Adams, the senior director at GOZAIC, the website of Heritage Travel Inc, which is a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“They’re the folks we want to come and visit us,” said Adams.