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Economic importance of water trails highlighted

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 10:46 p.m.

Water trails mean money.

A study conducted for Pennsylvania's Legislative Budget and Finance Committee determined that four trails — one of them the Three Rivers Water Trail, which takes in 12 miles each of the Allegheny and Ohio rivers and 16 miles of the Monongahela — generated about $750,000 in economic activity and supported 11 full-time jobs this year.

The study, conducted by a consultant, involved surveying about 10 percent of the nearly 3,500 people counted on the Three Rivers, Juniata, Schuylkill and North Branch Susquehanna waters trails between July and September.

The interviews revealed that about half of those on the water lived nearby. About 40 percent of those said they were on the water primarily to fish; another 30 percent were there to picnic, relax, enjoy the scenery and look for wildlife. There was plenty of overlap, though. Seventy percent of visitors were looking to do some combination of fishing, canoeing and kayaking or motor boating.

Most visitors, about 85 percent, were just out for the day. Of those out for longer, about half were expecting to spend three days on the water, the report said.

The Schuylkill and Susquehanna river trails were the most heavily visited during the survey time frame. The Three Rivers trail ranked third.

Pennsylvania has 21 water trails. Others, such as one on Loyalhanna Creek, are in development. The survey shows that all are important to local economies and more, said Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway.

“Water trails make it easier for both powered and non-powered boaters to participate in the sport,” he said. “They provide safe access to, and information about, waterways while also providing connections to the diverse history, ecology, geology, heritage and wildlife of Pennsylvania.”

The study also showed there's room for growth in usage. Some demographics are underrepresented.

About three quarters of river trail users were men, and 90 percent were white. Blacks made up just 6 percent of water trail users, Hispanics just 3 percent. People between the ages 30-69 accounted for 80 percent.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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