Judging by the amount of people from various states who participated in the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon Run/Walk on Nov. 5, it’s clear the trail offers a strong attraction for both tourism and economic development in the region.
The race, now in its seventh year, attracted more than 900 people who either ran or walked the race, including people from as far away as Washington, Texas, Montana and Arizona. The race started at Northern Lehigh High School in Slatington and ended at Canal Street Park in Northampton. It’s on my bucket list of races to do.
This particular race is one that helps the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor promote the trail and eventually connect the entire 165-mile trail in eastern Pennsylvania from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol in suburban Philadelphia, a goal that’s in sight.
It’s a remarkable and historic trail that offers beautiful views and critical outdoor recreation opportunities with a nice mixture of terrain that’s perfect for biking, running and walking. At races, people create lasting memories, achieve major goals and meet new people, all while benefiting their health and wellness. These are a few of the reasons we need to preserve these natural assets that not every state or region is fortunate enough to have.
The D&L National Heritage Corridor is the nonprofit group in Easton that preserves and promotes the trail through events, education and other initiatives.
When people visit the trail, they often stay overnight or spend money at local businesses and bring tourism dollars into communities, giving a significant boost to the economy through the five counties the trail runs through.
The proximity of the trail to so many communities offers tons of things for people to do, from fishing and water sports to museum tours, live music and theater. For some people, it can be a deciding factor in where they buy their home.
$475M ANNUAL ECONOMIC IMPACT
Elissa Garofalo, executive director of the D&L National Heritage Corridor, said her organization recently completed an update of its trail user study which included an economic development impact study completed in 2012, where data revealed the trail generated a $238.7 million annual impact for all five counties.
Five years later, the organization’s most recent study, though still in draft form, showed the trail brings an estimated $475 million annual economic impact.
These are pretty clear examples of the economic benefits of the trail. While there are sections of the 165-mile trail that are not connected, efforts are underway to connect the two biggest chunks, which are north of Mountain Top in Luzerne County and south toward the Cementon, Northampton and Allentown section in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
A good portion of the trail also runs through The Waterfront project under construction in Allentown along the banks of the Lehigh River.
The nonprofit has been partnering with organizations such as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and developers involved in The Waterfront project to apply for federal transportation grant funds to connect this portion.
Also, the remaining portions in Bucks County should be connected in about three years, Garofalo added.
While there are other trails throughout the Lehigh Valley and eastern Pennsylvania, the D&L is key.
“As important as the trail network is, they all connect to the D&L, so the D&L is the spine,” Garofalo said. “When it all gets connected, it will truly become an economic generator. It will be the longest multi-use trail in Pennsylvania.”
Thanks to the many volunteers, sponsors and partners who donate their time and money to the organization, that work can continue.