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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bike trail leads to economic boom

Image of Root River State Trail in MinnesotaFrom the Winona Daily News (Minnesota), 10.07.07:

Small-town turnaround in Lanesboro: Bike trail led to economic boom

Nestled in a southeastern Minnesota valley, Lanesboro, population 788, is much like any small town. Passersby wave and say hello. Conversations often erupt on the sidewalk. People give their phone number as four digits. Coffee shops and diners ooze gossip. Yet it is like no other.

On summer weekends, the overnight population can triple. Main street bustles as tourists jockey for parking spaces on their way to restaurants and artists’ galleries. Kayaks, canoes and inner tubes jam the Root River, while a steady parade of bicycles rolls along the adjacent trail.

In the past two decades, Lanesboro has reinvented itself as a tourist mecca and a bedroom community, avoiding the fate of many small towns...Things took a downward turn in the 1970s as farmers suffered, the trains stopped and the small downtown started to fail.

Julie Kiehne, Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, said before 1985, when a bike trail was built on the rail bed, the town didn’t seem to have much of a future. "The town was boarded up; much of main street had vacant store fronts," she said. "People wondered if the school would survive."

The passenger trains...stopped long ago, but the tourists still follow the same route into Lanesboro. Most residents credit the bike trail, built in 1985, with saving the town. On sunny summer evenings--even weekdays--bikers stream through the downtown, stopping for dinner at the area restaurants or heading to one of the bed and breakfasts. On summer weekends, the town easily doubles its population. During big events it can triple.

Built on the former Milwaukee Railroad bed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Root River State Trail is more than 60 miles of paved multi-use trails that follow the river through bluffs and farmland. In an average year, Fillmore County welcomes about 200,000 visitors.

The trails spawned a river-based tourism industry. Businesses started to rent canoes, kayaks, inner tubes and bikes to visitors looking to spend time outdoors.(Read more.)
This article is more recreational bicycling than commuting. But it's great evidence that bicycle facilities can have a positive economic benefit, something advocates can use to persuade their community to embrace bicycling.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips


Anonymous said...

Build it and they will come. Next: turning interstate highways into bike paths.

Drunk Engineer said...

I don't see this project as any great success. In Europe, an old railroad ROW like this would have been refurbished with new DMU passenger rail service, at very lost cost ($2m per mile). has a pretty good write-up on this.