I love hearing about the economic impact of rail-trails because to me, that’s the most convincing argument for a trail. Usually the numbers come from some big study that makes some pretty broad-brush claims.
But here’s information from one bike shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, one end of the 43-mile Longleaf Trace.
Before the Longleaf Trace opened in 2000, Moore’s Bicycle Shop was one full-time person (the owner) and a part-timer. Sales in 2000 were $225,000 in a 1,400-square-foot store. A decade later, he had 6,500 square feet of retail space, five full-timers and one part-timer and average annual sales of $565,000.
Here are some money numbers from opening to 2014: more than $900,000 in additional payroll, more than $265,000 in additional sales-tax revenue (including $47,000 to the city) and an additional $96,000 in additional property taxes.
Plus he’s gotten more competition.
And yes, James Moore is a big proponent of the trail and hosted the first meetings to create it. He tells a story of the second meeting, when opponents got wind of it and came out in large numbers. One older man finally stood up and said he buys his car, his clothes and more in Hattiesburg and was happy that the Trace would give him a chance to spend more of his money in his community.
Now having ridden the length of the Trace, I didn’t see many places to spend money in the tiny towns along much of it. The businesses that are there may be doing a bit better (I did see one general store that sells bike lights) and could benefit from some signage telling out-of-towners about food and other services, but the bigger businesses are in Hattiesburg and in Prentiss, at the other end of the trail.
The Trace extended to downtown a few months ago, which should help businesses there. A Civil Rights museum is opening later this year to help tell the story of the Freedom Summer of 1964, when out-of-staters came down to register African-Americans to vote after the Civil Rights Act passed. Hattiesburg was the epicenter for southern Mississippi. The town is also working at connecting schools and the zoo to the Trace. Several miles out of town, there are big plans to develop an area around a pond into a fun place to while away the day,
More could be done: I hope they find a back-roads route so out-of-towners can get from hotels by the interstate to the Trace without having to drive. The Trace’s own website could come into the 21st century, and it would be wonderful to see more about the history of the area, from Indians to longleaf pine to cotton to whatever has come next, along the Trace.
Finally, a random fun fact about Hattiesburg: The zoo is home to two sloths and there’s a four-month wait to get 30 minutes of cuddle time with one. Cost is $40.