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The original item was published from 1/24/2022 9:02:47 AM to 2/28/2022 5:05:05 PM.

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Posted on: January 27, 2022

[ARCHIVED] Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Provides Major Health, Economic and Societal Benefits

Potomac Heritage Trail Photo

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Provides Major Health, Economic and Societal Benefits to the Region

Health and Economic Annual Benefits Nearly $500 Million;
2,500 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent Offset


The Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) released a study conducted by BBC Research & Consulting to analyze the health, social equity, and economic impacts of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHNST) in Northern Virginia. In Northern Virginia the trail network spans 140 miles through the Town of Dumfries, the Town of Occoquan, the Town of Leesburg, the City of Alexandria and the Counties of Loudoun, Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince William.

Key findings of the report include:

Trail Use. In total, trail users walk 13.6 million miles and bike 45 million miles each year. On average this represents 100,000 miles of walking and 300,000 miles of biking for each mile of the completed trail.

Health. Regional residents see a $349 million in annual benefits due to decreased mortality from the trail and $55 million annually in reduced healthcare costs.

Economic Development. The trail corridor boasts more than 250 restaurants and retail outlets representing more than $86 million in annual revenues. Each year, tourists take 680 thousand biking trips and 720 thousand walking trips along the trail. On average, a tourist to the region spends more than $300 during their stay including $36 in local taxes.

Transportation. Residents commute more than 6 million miles annually along the trail. If replaced with personal vehicles, this would result in an additional 2,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e0) in the region each year and a savings of more than $4 million annually in environmental and personal vehicle costs.

Equity. Benefits of the trail are not equally distributed. Users are more likely than regional residents to identify as white or black, while users are less likely than regional residents to identify as Hispanic. Areas along the trail with a higher concentration of socially vulnerable residents typically have fewer access points, more gaps (unfinished segments) in the trail and more traffic safety issues than those neighborhoods with less socially disadvantaged residents.

The study team worked with NVRC, staff and key stakeholders to develop recommendations for future infrastructure investment and trail programming. Such recommendations include:

Design. Create spaces with good lighting, sight lines and comfortable amenities;

Programming. Work with community organizations to activate the trail, understand the balance between recreation and transportation and increase programming for underserved populations;

Communication. Help residents understand that the trail is for everyone;

Education. Help enforcement and local governments understand the unique needs of the community;

Safety. Improve safety for trail users and for pedestrians and bicyclists along networks adjacent to the trail;

Data collection. Bolster local government efforts to collect pedestrian and bicycle use data;

Outreach. Ensure broad input from all stakeholders regarding future infrastructure and amenity investments; and

Trail completion. Work with local governments to complete planned and temporary sections of the trail and complete routing the trail on currently unplanned segments. BBC estimates that completing the gaps would result in additional $80 million in annual mortality benefits and $13 million in annual avoided health care costs.

The report can be downloaded here: In addition to the report, BBC created an interactive dashboard that highlights the benefits of the trail which can be found at the link above.

A webinar on this study will be held on February 2 and 2PM. Details and registration link can be found here:

NVRC is grateful to the National Park Service for the grant to conduct this study.

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