WVU researchers evaluate impact of local rail trails

Monongalia and Preston

MORGANTOWN, W.Va – WVU researchers recently evaluated the impact of local rail trails. 

From 2016 to 2017, the West Virginia University Health Research Center evaluated the business impact of the Mon River Trails System, which is a network of 48 miles of trails in North Central West Virginia. 

The team interviewed current and former business owners along the trail. County assessor records from 1994 to 2016 were analyzed. 

“And we found essentially that the growth, looking at the assessor records, the growth of property values along the trail, is about 170 percent or so median value. Countywide was about sixty percent during the same time, so there was major growth as people know, along and near the rail trail,” said Christiaan Abildso, assistant professor in the WVU School of Public Health and program director in the Heath Research Center.

Abildso says trail oriented development can be a double edged sword. 

“Smaller, local businesses, the ones that had to leave the trail, is because of cost. As property values go up, it becomes harder for sort of the smaller businesses to stick around and afford the rent,” said Abildso.

Many of the businesses interviewed say that the trails help to recruit and retain employees. 

“Because they have a really great spot you can ride your bike to and from work. Walk to and from work. Take a break, and go for a walk at lunch. I know a few employees that work down here that have really sparked a weight loss campaign,” said Abildso. 

Abildso says the best way to make use of the trails is to invest in maintenance. 

“There are numerous social, quality of life benefits that are hard to capture in dollars and cents. But I know, having moved here, I can’t even imagine being here without it and I think that’s been echoed by a lot of the businesses along the trail,” said Abildso. 

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