The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail has been a great addition to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the surrounding community. Anytime you are on the trail in the summer, you can see that it is getting a lot of use.
The Friends had done several non-scientific surveys in the past 7 years, but during the summer of 2019, we worked with TART Trails and the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation to conduct a scientific survey of trail users and local businesses and community members.
We wanted to learn more about how trail users felt about the trail and what community members, businesses, and healthcare providers thought – was the trail improving the quality of life for visitors and the community. The survey was done for two trails in the region: Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail and the Leelanau Trail. Our volunteers administered over 400 trail use surveys on the Heritage Trail and TART staff did surveys with 400 trail users on the Leelanau Trail. The University of Florida students interviewed businesses and healthcare providers.
One of the surprising things was the difference in the type of user between the two trails. The Heritage Trail was a tourist destination and closely related to the visitation of the National Lakeshore, while the use of the Leelanau Trail was more local residents using the trail for recreation and exercise. That difference shows up in the economic impact numbers. According to the study, the Heritage Trail brings in over $3.3 Million per year to the local economy.
The other thing that stood out was that trail users felt that biking, walking, running on the trail was one way for them to improve their health and reduce healthcare costs. The study also highlighted the fact that both trails are accessible, provides opportunities for those with disabilities to enjoy nature too.
Summary of work completed by the Friends summarized by Kerry Kelly; Former Chair and SBHT Program Manager.
A summary of the study results are posted on TART Trails website.