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Study: Prairie Path Drives Local Spending, Benefits Health

The following information came from a Trails for Illinois press release.

A new report released earlier this month by a trail advocacy group shows segments of the 50-year-old Illinois Prairie Path in western Cook and Dupage County see between 33,000 to over 190,000 visits annually from runners, walkers and cyclists. 

The report, Making Trails Count: Illinois Prairie Path, was funded by the Illinois Prairie Path Not-for-Profit Corporation to measure the “Triple Bottom Line” benefits of the trail’s use— economic impact, environmental stewardship, and health and wellness. 

The report, which was released on March 7, describes the findings of a 10-week study of trail use by the non-profit Trails for Illinois and its partners Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the University of Illinois Office of Recreation & Park Resources.

Between late-July and mid-October 2013, the study used automated trail counters to gather use data along the 61-mile trail at different locations:

  • Maywood, Main Branch - 183,971 visits
  • Villa Park, Main Branch - 185, 012 visits
  • Wheaton, Aurora Branch - 91,514 visits
  • Wheaton, Elgin Branch - 193,514 visits
  • Wayne, Elgin Branch - 44,288 visits 
  • Batavia Spur - 33,767 visits*

The study also includes the results of an intercept survey of trail users collected from varied locations over the study period. 

The findings reveal that the Illinois Prairie Path’s users have spending muscle and frequently flex it while using the trail:

  • 51 percent of the trail users surveyed reported household incomes above $100,000.
  • 35 percent of trail users reported spending money during their visit to the trail, most frequently at restaurants, bars, and grocery stores.
  • The average amount spent by trail users making a purchase was $41; those buying trail- related gear during their visit spent on average $176; those who bought food or drink spent on average $18.

The data also suggests that the Illinois Prairie Path is playing a significant role in the healthy and sustainable lifestyles of western Cook and Dupage County, including access to nature, particularly for middle-aged adults and seniors:

  • 56% of trail users surveyed were between 46 and 65 years old.
  • 76% of trail users expected to spend 1-3 hours on the trail that day cycling, running and walking. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity for adults.
  • 66% of trail users aged 36 to 45 cited stress relief as a reason for visiting the trail. 
  • 6% of those surveyed said commuting was their primary reason for using the trail
  • Bicycling was the primary trail activity for nearly 60% of respondents.
  • The trail is bringing Illinoisans in frequent contact with nature; more than 55% of trail users reported visiting the trail 21 or more times during summer, 41% in the fall, 19% in the winter and 46% during spring over the past year
  • 77% of trail users walked or biked to the trail

The full report is available as a free download at http://trailsforillinois.org/maketrailscount.

Trails for Illinois, whose mission is to connect and promote the use of trails statewide, hopes the study will help raise the priority of trail development, maintenance and promotion in the Chicago region and throughout the state. 

“It’s tough for a local or state official in a cash- strapped state to green light projects that can’t show a return to the tax payer on their investment,” says Buchtel. “And it’s tough for businesses or tourism to capture the customers they don’t see. We’re showing the return from investment in the Illinois Prairie Path. We’re pointing out the customers.”

“This report opens an invitation for healthcare and tourism to get involved in trail development and programming, in promoting the trails we have.”

With Making Trails Count: Illinois Prairie Path, Trails for Illinois has collected data on the local and regional impacts of seven trails statewide. 

Buchtel says “We’ve got a growing body of data that shows how trails are benefiting Illinois, and we want to grow and leverage that. The more counts we can do on our trails, the more trails will count in Illinois.” 

Ken March 17, 2014 at 12:52 PM
The Prairie Path is a natural treasure.

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