Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Analysis
The GAP Conservancy
The GAP Conservancy, formerly known as the Allegheny Trail Alliance, was founded in 1995 to promote and coordinate the development and use of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a 150-mile multiuse trail that connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD.
The Great Allegheny Passage is one the country’s most popular and celebrated long-distance biking and hiking paths, winding 150 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, through tunnels in the Allegheny Mountains, across the pristine Laurel Highlands, deep into the gorges of Ohiopyle State Park, into the region’s historic Steel Valley, to Pittsburgh’s festive Point State Park. Constructed between 1978 and 2013, and maintained by municipalities and local volunteers, the Great Allegheny Passage receives over a million visits annually, with tourists from all 50 states and over 35 countries.
We helped the GAP Conservancy to analyze the economic impacts that tourism on the trail has on the five-county region which it passes. We utilized surveys of trail users and business owners to understand spending patterns.
Fourth Economy created an economic impact model based on surveys and interviews with business owners, municipal officials, and local residents to estimate that the GAP provided $121 million in annual economic impact in 2019, a number that will likely grow in the future and which exceeds the total cost of physical investment that was required to create the trail in the first place. That is a phenomenal return on investment. Through that impact, we estimate that the GAP provides nearly 1,400 jobs in the region. Public economic data reinforces this story: despite sharp declines in population, the area immediately surrounding the GAP saw far higher rates of growth in specific industries associated with recreational tourism (e.g., Food and Accommodations) than did the region at large. We also find that the GAP is associated with increased property values, an influx of local tax revenue, and other spending on goods and services related to trail use, like sales and rentals of cycling and outdoor recreational equipment. However, the trail community faces challenges. Businesses in the area were hit especially hard during the Covid-19 crisis, despite significant increases in trail use during 2020.
Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD