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New York study finds trail benefits trail neighbors

In February, National Public Radio broadcast a story on rail trails opponents in Ohio who claim the trail would attract "pedophiles, and people that expose themselves, and all kinds of breaking and entering." Are trails having serious impacts on residential areas they run through? Several studies find no evidence of any major problems, nor any dramatic rise in property value. However, the value to the larger community is quite clear.

In 1997 the Schenectady County Department of Planning surveyed property owners adjacent to the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail. The goal was to look for better documentation of possible impacts of the trail on adjoining neighbors as well as the larger community. The trail sees about 350,000 trail user trips a year.

Survey questionnaires were mailed to all 315 residential property owners immediately adjacent to the off-street portions of the trail route. Responses totalled 215, or 68%, of the owners. Most homes are located between 100 and 200 feet from the trail. Use of the trail is 44% bicycling, 31% walking, 18% running, and 7% in-line skating.

Overall, landowners feel that the trail has no effect on, or has improved their ability to sell their homes. Similarly, most feel the trail has no effect on, or has actually increased the value of their property.

Overall, respondents also reported that living near the trail is somewhat better than they had expected it to be and the quality of their neighborhood was improved modestly. The benefits considered most important by landowners were safe opportunities for recreation, health, and fitness pursuits. In fact, 40% of adjoining households used the trail daily or frequently. Only 14% never use the trail.

Landowners also overwhelmingly reported that development and management of trails such as the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail is a good use of public funds.

For more information and for copies of the full report, contact Stephen Feeney, Schenectady County Dept.of Planning, 107 Nott Terrace, Ste. 303, Schenectady NY 12308 (518) 386-2225.

Family, business and trail Grow side by side

From the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council

Since 1980, the Benziger family has lived and worked on 100 acres of Sonoma mountainside, adjacent to Jack London State Park. The property includes three homes, 65 acres of vineyard and a winery. In addition to growing grapes and striving to produce world-class wine, the family also uses the property to showcase organic and sustainable vineyard techniques.

A 100-yard segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail runs along the property line separating the Benziger property from the park. According to Chris Benziger, the Trail was an important factor in the family's decision to purchase the property. "The proximity to the trail was definitely an added benefit," he says. "We all enjoy the access to a great trail network, and it's made the home site a social hub. We just meet up there and head out on a trail outing." He adds that the trail has also been good for business. "At work, we've instituted what we call 'walks in the woods.' Some of the best business ideas come out of them."

Benziger says the family has never experienced any problems from the Trail, which is separated from the property by a wire fence and patrolled by park rangers. "Our property abuts a parking lot for the Trail, which you'd think might be an invitation to trouble. But we've never had any," he says.

We have collected other studies on the impacts of trails on adjacent property and will be publishing a comprehensive summary in the next issue of Trail Tracks, and also on the American Trails website.

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