Rails to Trails to Economic Growth

 In News

Before we were a rail town, we were a trail town. Once again, our many mountain towns here in the First Frontier Blair County are a key part of an ever-expanding mid-Atlantic trail network. Each year tens of thousands of residents and visitors take to our trails. Whether you are hiking, running, mountain biking or road biking, our current Blair County trail system covers several hundred miles and links to thousands of additional miles in our region.

And that trail network will be growing over the next few years. Plans are underway to expand our trail system and improve road bike/car sharing access. Nationally, the 9-11 Trail is being designed to link Washington, D.C., Shanksville, and New York City, passing through the heart Blair County. Several folks from the 9-11 Trail Advisory Board visited Blair County this past Spring to ride segments of existing trails to determine best alignments. We were honored to be part of the ride.

The impact of the 9-11 trail will be big . . . think Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) big. Since the GAP’s completion, towns and communities along the trail have become anchor destinations serving hundreds of thousands of visitors, attracting new residents and welcoming new businesses. “Trail systems throughout our region attract visitors who seek outdoor experiences and beautiful landscapes,” said Jane Sheffield, Executive Director of the Allegheny Ridge Corporation. “These people routinely comment upon the beauty of our culturally rich communities; something they will keep in mind when considering personal and professional relocation and investment,” Sheffield added.

“Trails support an active outdoor lifestyle, link people with nature, and are big for economic development,” said Cathy McCollom, who moved her consulting business from Pittsburgh to Confluence, PA, along the GAP several years ago. “Think about it, trails attract people, people invest and those same people start-up businesses or work with existing ones. More trails, more people, more potential long-term investment from next generation investors,” McCollom added.

That’s why this fall the Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD) Corporation, in partnership with Explore Altoona and the Blair County Planning Commission, organized a group of planners and community stakeholders to visit Confluence, PA. The goal was to learn what types of businesses and amenities need to be in place to best serve trail users and what role each organization can play.

Williamsburg, PA here in Blair County is one of those key trail towns that sits next to the nearly 17-mile long Lower Trail. The mountain town is along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, next to Canoe Creek State Park, and is a gateway community to Lake Raystown. “We know we are well positioned to leverage the trails and outdoor enthusiasts of all types,” said David Cadle, long time Williamsburg resident and community advocate. “We are organizing now, being proactive and beginning to tell our own trail town story,” Cadle added.

ABCD’s role in this effort is clear. We will help to connect potential investors with available sites and buildings in all of our trail towns. We will help finance business start-ups of all types. We will advocate for policies that improve trail development and existing road access improvements. We will continue to shout the good news from our Valleys and Mountain tops to potential residents and investors; those who are looking for a change of pace, rush “minute” commute times and an overall better way of life (we are biased on that point of course).

Want to learn more about trail development, use and routes, see the sites below:

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