2014-02-20 / Front Page

Pike 2 Bike Study Findings Released

Three scenarios presented for modernizing old turnpike trail
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

NEWS EDITOR

A theme of “if you build it, they will come” seemed to prevail last Tuesday night as more than 50 individuals gathered to hear how modernizing the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, now better known as Pike 2 Bike, could possibly economically impact both Fulton and Bedford counties.

In releasing the results of an economic impact study prepared by Fourth Economy, area residents, business owners and government officials learned about the impact of construction and operations as well as investment scenarios and the potential return on each of the three investment scenarios. Bedford County Planning Commission Director Don Schwartz, along with Fourth Economy representatives Steve McKnight and Chrystal Alexander, oversaw the presentation at the Breezewood Firehall that included both a PowerPoint presentation and a question and answer session.

McKnight told the crowd the “unique” Pike 2 Bike project is perfect for a variety of uses, including walking/hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, primitive camping, dog sledding, crosscountry skiing and snowmobiles. By developing the trail to allow for this additional usage, several areas were reportedly studied by Fourth Economy such as hospitality, specialty retail, business attraction, real estate and food and beverage.

The study process itself took several months to complete, McKnight added, and sought information from the public through a survey process. A total of 507 individuals representing more than a dozen different states completed the online survey. Survey results indicate that 42 percent of current business owners “may invest” in a new business as a result of trail construction. In addition, 75 percent of business owners believe the completion of the Pike 2 Bike project would bring economic growth and opportunity to the area.

Jim Bitner of Gateway Travel Plaza was one such business owner to speak publicly, referencing the “chicken and egg situation.” He referenced the vision his family had in opening the Gateway in 1940 prior to any traffic being in the area. Fast forwarding to today, Bitner said fewer vehicles are coming through Breezewood and encouraged this possible economic growth.

Fellow Bedford County resident John Maxwell pointed out the “key” to the project is to get Fulton County involved and develop the eastern end of the trail. Eighty-five percent of the trail currently lies in Fulton County, however, there is a current lack of hotel accommodations as well as food and dining that if constructed could potentially draw visitors to the eastern end. Maxwell stressed that developing Fulton County must be done as part of the project’s development and not after it is completed.

Bitner countered no one would invest or “spend a dime” on the eastern end until the Pike 2 Bike is done.

Chrystal Alexander of Fourth Economy said her firm did its best to consider Fulton County and its needs by looking at impact, spending and construction. She said the economic study captures only what currently exists and not the what ifs and additions of restaurants and businesses that could include the sale of footwear, bike rentals and supplies as well as convenience stores, hotels and bars and restaurants.

Addressing each scenario outlined in the plan, Alexander said the first level of spending could approach safety first and allowing trail access. Areas tackled in level one are tunnel repairs to address structural safety concerns and improvements to the trail heads to provide basic amenities for 25,000 visitors annually. Overall construction costs have been estimated at $3.28 million.

A second scenario addressed by Alexander creates a family friendly atmosphere with multiple trail uses by adding on trail resurfacing, installation of wells to provide water and adding signage, restrooms, benches, landscaping, a midway rest area and solar charging stations. Total investment is $4.29 million.

In both scenarios, looking only at existing amenities in Fulton County, it is projected annual visitors would only expend 20 percent of their overall money in Fulton County for retail and 2 percent on overnight accommodations.

The third scenario aimed at connecting the Pike 2 Bike to other existing trails would require $6.27 million to complete. In addition to the special features already mentioned, it would include the construction of a historical museum and developing a nature reserve in Fulton County. Specialty vehicles could also access the area through an additional trail head. The number of visitors expected to annually visit this type of trail has been estimated at 225,000.

Each of the three scenarios would require an 85 percent investment by Fulton County, and construction would be completed within two years.

Alexander noted the trail could be developed more slowly. She added it was difficult to pinpoint how quickly it would take off.

According to Schwartz, following the February 11 public meeting, written comments can be submitted for an additional 10 days. A full draft of the economic study by Fourth Economy is expected to be released in March. Copies of the study will be made available through the Bedford and Fulton planning offices as well as through the counties’ Web sites.

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