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Community Corner: The economic impact of the Rountree Branch trail
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The first steps have been taken on a project to expand and improve Platteville’s Rountree Branch Trail.

The proposed improvements include paving and lighting the three-mile trail, rerouting around stairs, and replacing a failing bridge.

The trail project is a collaborative community effort and is off to a great start with widespread business and community support in the initial fundraising efforts. Fundraising currently stands at approximately $400,000 with major gifts from the city and the UW–Platteville Foundation. Local businesses have also stepped up, pledging approximately $90,000 to date with new businesses pledging daily. Grants from the Alliant Energy Foundation, Platteville Community Fund, Woodward Foundation, and People for Bikes total $45,600. A grant request for half of the estimated project cost was submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in April.

The expanded Rountree Branch Trail will bring people to the doorstep of Platteville businesses, from McDonald’s to Menards, parallel to U.S 151. UW–Platteville students and community residents will have a safe, accessible way to walk or bike to any of the businesses adjacent to or nearby the trail. Construction is slated to begin in spring 2015, with completion later that year.

Silent sports like the walking and biking path have anything but a quiet economic impact.

Every situation is different, but studies unanimously show that walking and biking paths increase the value of surrounding property, boost spending at local businesses, and add to quality of life in the community. The U.S. National Parks Service notes that increases in property values range from 5 percent to 32 percent when adjacent to trails and greenways.

In a 2002 survey by the National Association of Homebuilders and National Association of Realtors, home buyers ranked trails second to highway access when asked about amenities they wanted.

Right here in Wisconsin business owners along the Ice Age Trail see increased tourist traffic, according to the Ice Age Trail Alliance. A nearby trail gives both residents and visitors another activity that appeals to families, senior citizens and outdoor enthusiasts who spend money at restaurants, retail stores, gas and convenience stations. Businesses along the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C., reported 30-percent to 85-percent increases in sales or revenues after the opening on the trail.

Trails are assets in attracting people who want to work here — and maybe walk or bike to work - retire, telecommute or start their own business here. A growing body of research suggests young adults choose where they want to live based on the lifestyle and amenities of the community and that they are attracted to communities that offer alternative transportation options such as walking, biking, and public transit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, rural counties that can attract “creative class” businesses — engineering, research/science, medical, design, arts, entertainment, and entrepreneurs — enjoy job growth rates higher than metropolitan areas. Creative class workers seek active street scenes and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Recent research by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group mirrors national research commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America in finding that better transportation options are important to young professionals. In the WISPIRG study, 84 percent of the respondents said it was somewhat to very important to have transportation options other than a car.

In Dubuque, on a recent weekend day at its Mississippi Riverwalk, leisure services manager Marie Ware saw people photographing two proms and one wedding, while a mix of citizen and visitor walkers took in the sights.

“That’s economic development,” she said. “That’s quality of life.” People come to walking trails for exercise, to watch birds and other people, Ware said. The riverfront walk has become a signature setting for the city, and part of its fabric, she said. It also gives people one more reason to extend their stay.

In Caledonia, Minn., a city of 2,800 near La Crosse, people take a walking path to get groceries, go to school or get an ice cream cone at DQ.

“People do use it,” said Cody Moore, summer park and recreation director and a teacher in Caledonia. “You can’t find a day this time of year when” someone isn’t using the trail. Businesses see foot traffic and a public health office opened along the trail to make it more accessible.

The Platteville trail could connect to a statewide network of trails, with a potential to attract more tourists.

Nationally, trail-related expenditures range from less than $1 per day to more than $75 per day, depending on mileage covered. Generally, it’s been found a trail can bring at least one million dollars annually to a community, depending on how well the town embraces the trail.

Businesses in the small, southeast Minnesota town of Lanesboro work together to capitalize on the town’s location along the Root River State Trail. Since the trail was opened a diverse range of new businesses have opened in Lanesboro, including over a dozen bed and breakfast inns, restaurants, a bookstore, Amish craft stores, and a summer stock theater.

Trail related spending in the Lanesboro community tops $2.3 million annually.

Let’s take the last steps together to get the trail up and running.

Fundraising for the expansion and improvement to the Rountree Branch Trail is ongoing. Businesses, clubs, or individuals can help by making a contribution, putting up a donation jar or hosting a fundraiser. Contributions can be mailed to the Platteville Community Arboretum, PO Box 302, Platteville, WI 53818 noting “MPO” in check memo.

For more information about the project please email PCA at or call Gene Weber, 348-8693, or Kris Wright, 348-7607.