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Trail provides positive economic impact to West Newton area

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 2:33 p.m.

Mary Lou Rendulic does not need a study to tell her about the economic value of the Great Allegheny Passage, the popular 150-mile recreational trail that cuts through West Newton as it connects Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Md.

“We're finding that we are renting more and more rooms per season,” said Rendulic, who operates Bright Morning Bed & Breakfast, The Annex Inn and the new Willow Springs Inn along Jefferson Court, just off the Great Allegheny Passage.

Rendulic opened Bright Morning Bed & Breakfast in 2002 with her husband, Robert. Trail users have accounted for almost 90 percent of the business for the 12-room bed and breakfast that is spread over three houses, Robert Rendulic said.

There has been an overall increase in the economic impact of those using the Great Allegheny Passage, compared to previous surveys dating back to 2008, according to a trail user and business survey conducted from July to October 2014 in West Newton, Connellsville, Ohiopyle, Confluence and five other trail towns in Pennsylvania.

The average trail user spends $18 per day along the trail, with an average of $59 spent at restaurants and on snacks and beverages, according to the survey by the Trail Towns Program, which is part of The Progress Fund, a Greensburg-based financial agency that has invested heavily in West Newton. It has supported Bright Morning Bed & Breakfast, The Trailside Restaurant and Fox's Pizza.

Trail users planning an overnight stay along the Great Allegheny Passage spent an average of $128 in 2014, a $26 increase from 2008, the survey found. About 62 percent of the trail users were planning an overnight stay along the trail.

About 21 percent of trail users surveyed were traveling the 335 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., while about 13 percent made the shorter trip from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. Of those planning a multiple day trip, 62 percent included an overnight stay, more than double from 2011.

With more businesses being involved in offering services to trail users, trail traffic is spreading through West Newton, said Will Prince, coordinator of the Trail Town Program.

“Each year, it gets a little better. People are spending more and more. It's an extra piece of business,” Prince said.

The increase in the percentage of trail users planning an overnight stay and the increase in spending on those overnight stays is a significant positive economic impact, said Susan Ryan, a California University of Pennsylvania professor who oversees Cal U's tourism studies program.

The tourists — defined as those who travel more than 50 miles to a destination — have a more positive economic impact because they are injecting new money into the local economy, said Ryan, who is director of the Cal U Tourism Research Center. Ryan has directed research projects, with an emphasis on sustainable tourism development in Pennsylvania.

The length of the trail has helped the “secondary gateways” to the Great Allegheny Passage, towns such as West Newton that do not have the natural tourism draw like Ohiopyle, the center of a state park and a site for whitewater rafting, which are considered primary gateways, Ryan said.

“It's very positive,” Ryan said, noting the recreational trails help the economy and help to preserve cultural heritage.

Businesses reported an overall increase in trail user traffic from 34 percent in 2013 to 41 percent last year. An average of 6 percent of the trail traffic patronizing businesses were international visitors, based on a survey of 45 businesses from October 2014 to February 2015.

Twenty-seven percent of the businesses surveyed plan to expand their operations and 67 percent of those planning an expansion said it was due to trail traffic, an increase from 46 percent in 2011, according to the results of the survey. Most of the commercial respondents were eateries, lodging and retail stores.

A new business in West Newton, the Subway restaurant on South Water Street, has seen some trail traffic since it opened at the beginning of April and anticipates an increase as more people use the trail this summer, said Richard Kaminsky, president and CEO of Southwest Subway Inc. of Venetia, which owns the new Subway restaurant in West Newton.

One of the challenges to increasing business from trail users is getting hikers and bikers to cross the West Newton Bridge to the Subway restaurant at the former Riverside Lounge. The view of the rear of the building is blocked from trail users by trees on both sides of the river, said Kaminsky, whose company owns 24 Subway franchises.

Signs are needed to make visitors aware of the businesses across the Youghiogheny River, Kaminsky said, echoing sentiments others have expressed to borough officials.

Kaminsky, who grew up in Herminie, said the majority of his business comes from road traffic — more than 6,000 vehicles daily cross the Youghiogheny River at West Newton.

More businesses and a variety of businesses are needed in the community, Kaminsky said.

“It's important to make West Newton more of a place where people want to go,” Kaminsky said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 724-836-5252.

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