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Study finds 178,000 annual visitors to Pere Marquette Trail

From "Use and Users of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail in Midland County, Michigan." Download complete study (pdf 404 kb).

Prepared by: Charles Nelson, Ph.D., Associate Professor; Joel Lynch, Ph.D., Research Specialist; Christine Vogt, Ph.D., Assistant Professor; Afke van der Woud, Graduate Student
Department of Park, Recreation and Tourism Resources, Michigan State University, 2002

Map of Michigan


The Pere Marquette Rail-Trail (PMRT) of Midland County Michigan extends 22 miles from the City of Midland to Coleman. Developed from 1992 to 1995, the paved trail serves a variety of non-motorized activities such as walking/running, bicycling, and in-line skating. From its beginning in the urbanized setting of Midland Michigan, less than a mile from the Michigan operations headquarters of the Dow Chemical Company, the trail passes through densely wooded riparian areas adjoining the Tittabawassee River before terminating in the largely agricultural environment surrounding Coleman. Beyond linking communities, the PMRT also connects with a number of park and recreation facilities, historical and natural sites as well as numerous service/retail and light industrial businesses.


A one-page self-administered survey was distributed once every 10 minutes to a trail user passing the intercept point during each observation period. This intercept elicited information concerning motivation for trail use, frequency of use on an annual basis, time of use, trail section(s) used, level of satisfaction with current experience and demographic information.

"At the time this survey was completed, businesses were more supportive of the new trail than residents."

Bicycling comprised the most visits by type of trail use in every section. For all sections combined bicycling was 54 percent of visits, walking/running 23 percent, in-line skating 22 percent, and 1 percent for other uses such as fishing access and use of mechanical conveyances for those with mobility impairments. A smaller proportion of visits involved bicycling inside the Midland City limits than in the sections outside the limits through Coleman. Children accounted for 24 percent of trail visits and adults for 76 percent.

Survey Results

Use of the PMRT is extensive, with an estimated 178,000 section visits from April through September. The trail serves County residents and visitors, providing satisfying experiences for bicyclists, in-line skaters, walkers and runners. Exercise and recreation are the primary motivations for use. Ninety-seven percent of users are satisfied with their trail experiences. The three percent not satisfied were concerned about glasphalt sections (now gone after repaving), potholes (which demand continual repair) and a desire for more restroom/drinking fountain facilities. Crowding was not noted as a problem, indicating additional capacity for use.

Of the 942 adults intercepted on the trail, 710 (75%) completed the survey. Seventy-seven percent resided and/or worked in Midland County and 23 percent were tourists. However, on weekends, almost one-third (31%) were tourists. About half (54%) of visits involved use of a trailhead parking area with the rest accessing the rail-trail from surface streets, sidewalks or adjacent property. Four percent of the visits involved persons with "an impairment that significantly impacted their ability to perform major life functions," defining a disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The typical rail-trail user spent about 2 hours on the trail per use, with users on weekends staying about 2.3 hours and weekday users about 1.7 hours. Almost two-thirds of trail users (61%) cited exercise as their primary reason for trail use, with 35 percent reporting recreation and 3 percent reporting transportation. On weekends, the proportion primarily using the trail for recreation was higher than during the week, while the proportion of exercise and transportation uses was lower. Trail users were highly satisfied with their experience as 97 percent rated their experience as satisfied and 3% as neutral or dissatisfied. Sources of dissatisfaction were glasphalt stretches (which have been paved over with regular asphalt since the study), potholes and desire for more bathrooms and drinking fountains along the trail.

Weighting to control for bias due to frequency of visit, the typical trail user had 15 visits to the trail in the past 12 months, with an average of 7.2 during summer (June - August), 4.0 in the spring (March - May), 3.1 in fall (September - November) and 0.7 during winter (December - February). During winter months the rail-trail is only plowed within the Midland City limits and no grooming is done of snow-covered trail outside the Midland City limits.

PMRT Survey Results Segmented by Group Composition

The composition of groups that use trail facilities can greatly influence their needs and the opportunities of businesses along the trail. For example, groups with children are likely to need to stop more frequently, to have restaurants with menus that in some manner specifically cater to the needs to children who are thirsty, tired and often excited and ready to eat rapidly so they can get back out on the trail. Conversely, groups of adults may seek the opportunity of a gathering place where they can socialize with others of similar persuasions, such as other runners or walkers. They are likely to build up routines that they appreciate being able to maintain over considerable periods of time. This requires a level of predictability on the part of service businesses that cater to such customers.


This profile and segmentation of PMRT trail visits and visitors provides a rich data set for managers to better understand trail users and their management concerns. It also provides excellent marketing data for businesses to better understand potential and current market segments, whether they provide a good or service. Trail related recreation equipment and clothing retailers, restaurants, convenience stores and others can directly benefit from the information contained. Transportation and trail funding and planning agencies can also benefit by better understanding reasons for satisfaction or the lack of it and the use of the trail for transportation. Finally community residents and local officials can adapt the procedures used to assess use and segment visits and visitors to plan studies of their own trail systems or in the conceptual phases as they discuss with members of the community what they want in a proposed trail.

Download complete study (pdf 404 kb)


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