History – Renaissance Renaissance began promoting revitalization in New Bethlehem and the Redbank Valley area in 2006. Efforts got underway in 2007 to support the conversion of the Pittsburgh-Shawmutt corridor to trails with official railbanking of the corridor to maintain it for future use should the railroad wish to return. Renaissance worked and solicited support of other organizations to have the corridor included in the Clarion County Greenways plan and to have New Bethlehem included as a model trail town. Both those efforts were successful.
The last train went through New Bethlehem in November 2007 and tracks and ties were pulled up thereafter. The railroad stipulated that the corridor is for non-motorized use only. The Allegheny Valley Land Trust was able to purchase the corridor in late June 2010 and assisted local volunteers in the corridor’s development.
Planning – Renaissance applied and was awarded a grant from the PA Wilds for installation of a welcome sign which was installed in May 2010 on Route 66 as you enter the Borough from Clarion. New Bethlehem Borough, with support from Redbank Renaissance and other community groups, was able to obtain a grant later in 2010 from the Northwest Commission Block Grant Program and DCNR for trail town planning. Mackin Engineering Company of Pittsburgh, in consultation with Cathy McCollom of McCollom Development Strategies, was selected in late October 2010 and began work in November 2010. Work on the study was completed in July 2011. Mackin Engineering was also selected for a Feasibility/Planning Study Grant to New Bethlehem Borough and the Allegheny Valley Land Trust on the trail to run concurrently with the trail town study. That study was also completed in July 2011 and made recommendations on the trail from the Allegheny River to Brookville. New Bethlehem and Redbank Renaissance invited other communities in the area to participate and model their trail town development on New Bethlehem’s plan to encourage regional development and revitalization. Redbank Renaissance follows the PA Main Street and Trail Town Program organizational style. Trail Town Manual (PDF)
A program was held on December 15th, 2010, for those interested in participating in trail town planning and trail development. Cathy McCollom gave a very informative presentation and told the assembled group how 6 communities along the Great Allegheny Passage derived $41 million in revenue from the trail during 8 months in 2008. In 3 years time, 57 new businesses and 227 new jobs were created. See the slides of the Dec. 15th presentation. McCollom Trail Town Presentation for New Bethlehem (PDF). For detailed information, view the Trail Town Economic Impact Study (PDF) completed in 2008 for the Progress Fund and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. Note in particular the last few pages of comments by business owners in the towns along the passage and what they did to increase business or start new businesses.
In 2017, Redbank Renaissance began working on a new Towns and Trail Regional Initiative to promote businesses and help them learn of the opportunity to prosper from trail visitors. The initiative is directed by Cathy McCollom of McCollom Development Strategies and is funded in part by the Benedum Foundation. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council serves as fiscal agent. This initiative is a 2-year program designed to help the towns along the Redbank Valley and Armstrong Trails promote the towns and their businesses in a regional effort to attract more visitors. The program will offer and develop a “toolbox” of resources that towns can use to promote economic development from water and rails to trails tourism. As part of this program, Redbank Renaissance created a video that can be seen in segments on this website highlighting the Redbank Valley Trail, several businesses along the trail, the Butler Freeport Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage, and their recommendations as to how other businesses can prosper from trail tourism and trail users.
Redbank Renaissance has also applied for another program through the Pennsylvania Downtown Center to continue economic revitalization efforts.
Our economic restructuring committee continues to work on helping existing businesses and attracting new businesses to take advantage of opportunities offered by our proximity to the trail. For more information please contact us.
Location – The Redbank Valley trail runs for 42 miles from the Allegheny River to Brookville and also has a 9 mile spur (8 miles of which are unimproved) that runs north to Sligo from Lawsonham at Mile Post 6. New Bethlehem lies at the midpoint of the trail and is the largest town with a business district between the Allegheny River and Brookville. It is the southwest gateway to the 12½ county PA Wilds tourism promotional area and the Lumber Heritage Region. New Bethlehem is only 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Access to New Bethlehem is easy via Route 28/66 and from I-80’s Clarion exit 64, south 12 miles on Rt. 66 or from I-80’s Brookville Exit 78, 18 miles west on Route 28. Visitors starting from New Bethlehem will be able to travel in either direction along the very scenic trail which parallels the Redbank Creek. Kayaking is already popular on the creek with local residents and with visitors when water levels are high enough. There are several launches along the creek.
The trail runs through New Bethlehem’s municipal parking lot and lies just 2 short blocks from the Redbank Creek where a variety of birds and wildlife can be seen. Just 3 miles west of New Bethlehem is the Climax tunnel which was completed in 1877 and on which rehabilitation is due to be completed in November 2017.
A grant from the Lumber Heritage Region to the Trails Association matched by a local member funded markers for historic sites along the corridor to recognize the many nature-based industries that existed in the past.
Shelters, rest areas and sculptural art pieces are also being added along the trail as improvements by volunteers continue.
Needs –There are great business opportunities for existing businesses to expand services to meet the needs of those who will use the trail, as well as new business opportunities. There are a number of vacant properties with good potential. Some of the businesses needed are:
- Bike Shop
- Sporting Goods Shop
- Ice Cream Parlors
- Coffee Shops
- Shuttle Services
- Artists and Craftpersons
- Gift, Souvenir & Retail Shops
- Accounting Firms
An existing business directory can be found at the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce, www.RedbankChamber.com. Please see a list of area Realtors and other useful information under Business Assistance on our website. The Clarion University Small Business Development Center is a great local resource for business development assistance as well as other listed links.
Economic Studies – How can the trail benefit you?
Trails build local businesses. Watch our video to see how trails present an opportunity to prosper. Take a look at this brochure which supplements the video with ways that you can take advantage of the opportunity tourism traffic on trails can present for you. Towns and Trails Video Brochure
“Bicycle tourists, a growing, affluent segment of the tourist market, contribute significantly to local businesses that are well-connected to trails. Along the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia, visitors spend $1.59 million annually providing an estimated 27 new full time jobs.” Learn more about “Trails and Economic Development” (PDF) from an August 2007 article that appeared in a publication of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and for more information on trails visit www.railstotrails.org.
Take a look at the Trail Users Survey Chart which shows the average spending of a recreational trail user on the Pine Creek, Ghost Town and other PA trails and those from other states. The surveys were picked up and returned by users on the trail and in some cases when volunteers intercepted trail users to ask them to complete the survey. The chart shows that most trail users are in the 45 – 65 year old age range and use the trail for health reasons. Local people spend money when on the trail for food and beverages and visitors spend more when lodging is included. The PA Oil Heritage Region Trail system reported $4.3 million in soft goods revenue from the trails based on a study done in 2006. Trail Users Survey Chart (PDF) The photo was taken on the Sandy Creek Trail near Franklin, PA where visitors from Maryland, New York and the local area were enjoying an autumn afternoon. A question one couple asked was, “is the next town “bike friendly?” Part of our planning effort will include signage, good sidewalks, bike racks, rest areas, available services and businesses that welcome visitors by having outdoor seating, accepting credit cards and providing helpful information to encourage visitors to stay and enjoy a long visit.
For more economic impact studies on PA trails, see the studies listed on the DCNR website. A similar study was just released in Feb. 2011 on the nearby Armstrong Rails to Trails to which the Redbank Valley Trail connects. That connection will eventually lead north to Erie and south to Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. by way of the Great Allegheny Passage. From the Great Allegheny Passage at Rockwood, trail users will connect to the 9-11 Memorial Trail.
According to an article entitled, “Ecobenefits of Walkable Communities,” (PDF) “Housing Values are Higher” and “Places where visitors and residents alike feel community pride and activity are increasingly likely to be strong economically. Tourists coming to Vermont to walk and bicycle in the scenic, humanscale towns and compact, pedestrian friendly town centers have proved to be an economic boon.”
A 2005 report, NCR Trail 2004 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis (PDF), detailed user responses from 2004 trail users on the right of way of the former Northern Central Railroad (NCR). 2 trails connect at the state line between Freeland, Maryland and New Freedom, Pennsylvania. The Maryland trail, which consists of 20 miles, was opened in 1986. The Pennsylvania trail, which is 21 miles in length, was developed from south to north in phases and officially opened in August 1999.
In 2004, trail users answered questions such as, “Approximately how much did you spend on overnight accommodations per night?” “After excluding those who stayed with a relative or friend, the average cost per night was $61.09 on the NCR Trail and $70.67 on the Heritage Rail Trail. Prices ranged from $5.00 per night at a campground to $135 per night at a B & B.” The report details answers to many other questions and provides useful insights to the buying habits and interests of trail users. It concludes in part: “The trail has also fostered new business enterprises that have added employment in northern Baltimore County. From the bicycle rental businesses near the Paper Mill Road trailhead and in Monkton to numerous refreshment stands along its length, the trail has ignited an entrepreneurial spirit along its course.”
The Redbank Valley Trail is 51 miles in length and connects to other trails. Visitors want to spend more time at longer trails. New Bethlehem’s location allows for day trips in several directions. The trail connects with the Armstrong Trail at the Allegheny River, north to Foxburg and Erie. The trail connects via the Armstrong Trail to Pittsburgh and to the South. With the completion in 2013 of the final section of the Great Allegheny Passage into Pittsburgh, it is now possible to ride to Washington, D.C. Those connections will open greater possibilities for outfitters, businesses and B&Bs along the way. Three new B&Bs/guest houses have already begun operations along the Redbank Valley Trails and there is opportunity for many more. Visits to Jim Thorpe, PA or towns along the Pine Creek Trail demonstrate the opportunities.
Similar positive economic results were noted in a study by Michigan State University in a report entitled, “Impacts of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail on the Economy and Business Community of Midland and Isabella Counties, Michigan.” (PDF) This study also cited the positive impact on housing values along the trail and business recruitment.
Some express concern that crime may increase with increased trail use, but the opposite is actually found to be true in most studies. A 28-page study entitled, “Rail Trails and Safe Communities, The Experience on 372 Trails” by Tammy Trace & Hugh Morris, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, January 1998, surveyed law-enforcement officials and crime statistics. The report shows that crime on rail-trails is not a common occurrence and that they remain much safer than many other environments. The research suggests that converting an abandoned rail corridor to a trail tends to reduce crime. Read the Safe Communities study here. More studies on crime and property values can be found here:
Some of the things businesses can do to take advantage of economic opportunities presented by increasing numbers of trail users includes accepting credit cards, staying open later when trail users are off the trails, having weekend hours when trail visitors may be in the area, offering shipping for their products and offering trail related products and services, such as ready to go meals and bike and hiking accessories. Rental shops for bikes, kayaks, and cross country skis present a great business opportunity along with shuttle services.
Trail of The Year
See the press release here
This recognition should open great development and economic potential for the businesses and communities along the trail much as the Pine Creek Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage have benefited the towns along those trails.
Trail Association – The Redbank Valley Trail Association was formed in May 2010 to develop and maintain the 4-season, non-motorized trail. Volunteers have been busy rolling, grading, cutting brush, repairing drainage and building bridges and have completed 42 miles in less than 7 years. Another 8 miles of improvement on the Sligo Spur will complete improvement of the trail surface with amenities to be added. The current status of each section is noted on the trail website. There are 27 bridges or stone arches on the trail, many of which have already been decked and railed. There are 3 tunnels, one of which near the end of the trail in Brookville will need rehabilitation and donations to assist in that effort are being sought. The trail passes through beautiful wilderness areas and encounters with wildlife are possible. For more information on the trail or to join the trail association, visit www.redbankvalleytrails.org.