I recently pedaled the Silver Comet Trail from Smyrna, Ga., a suburb north of Atlanta, to Cedartown, a small city with an historic downtown near the Alabama border. My ride through the mostly wooded countryside was so pleasant, I didn’t want it to end.
Apparently, I’m not alone.
A 2013 study by the Northwest Georgia Regional Planning Commission recommends more than doubling the length of the Silver Comet Trail —at its “tail” end—with spurs to nearby commercial centers and longer extensions to Marietta, Rome and Atlanta’s growing bike-path network.
As illustrated in their 2013 “Silver Comet Trail Economic Impact Assessment and Planning Study,” trails are well-established economic engines.
The study finds that every dollar invested in trails creates at least three dollars of return from tourism and recreation-related activities like equipment rentals, restaurants and lodging.
As an added note: Some studies have documented much higher rates of return, such as 900 percent in North Carolina’s Outer Banks and 1,180 percent in Kansas City!
In its present 61-mile makeup, 1.9 million users flock to the Silver Comet Trail each year, which got its name from the train that once sped passengers between New York City and Birmingham, Ala. Survey results conclude that Silver Comet Trail users generate $57 million in direct spending annually on food, clothing, lodging and other trip-related items.
One of the beneficiaries: Frankie’s Italian Restaurant in Rockmart, where cyclists can memorialize their rides by writing on a wall of fame!
The $57 million of direct spending estimated by the study creates an additional $61 million in indirect impact as dollars ripple through the economy. The total spending of almost $120 million in Georgia supports roughly 1,300 jobs and $37 million in earnings. In addition, the combined direct and indirect spending generates roughly $3.5 million in income tax, sales tax and business tax revenues.
Many trail users live in communities that are not adjacent to the trail; the study documents trail users from 23 counties in 8 different states—some as far away as Washington.
Ramona Ruark, Cedartown Main Street director, adds that the visitor log in the Cedartown Welcome Center—a replica of the city's original train station—documents trail users from other countries as well.
More than one-fifth of the people who responded to a 2013 survey stay overnight when visiting the trail—not surprising since roughly 15-million people live outside Georgia but within a 150-mile radius of the Silver Comet Trail. In fact, the study found that these bicycle tourists spend roughly $20 million annually on their visits.
Jackie Crum, owner of the Ragsdale Inn just off the trail in Dallas, estimates that more than half of her guests are Silver Comet Trail riders. “Tourism is wonderful for the local economy,” she explains. “It generates income without the infrastructure needs and tax burdens of residential development.”
Now, let’s talk about property values…
Several organizations have calculated the residential property value increases associated with proximity to trails and green space. A fact sheet from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports that properties along a trail in Brown County, Wis., fetched a 9 percent premium, and a regional greenway in Apex, N.C., added $5,000 to the sales price of adjacent homes in the Shepherd’s Vineyard development.
The Silver Comet Trail study summarizes that trails are responsible for a 4 to 7 percent increase in property value for homes within one-quarter mile. The study also estimates that the trail is capable of attracting developers to build new houses on vacant land near the trail with a value of up to $41 million, generating an additional half-million dollars in property tax revenue.
Trail-adjacent business owners are excited about the proposal to double the length of the trail. Longer trails mean more riders, more business, more jobs, more tax revenues and, consequently, more prosperity.
Photos by Rick Pruetz. Top: Silver Comet Trail wildlife area; top right: Historic Downtown Dallas, Ga.; middle left: Frankie's Italian Restaurant in Rockmart, Ga.; bottom right: Jackie Crum in front of the Ragsdale Inn in Dallas, Ga.
Rick Pruetz is a planning consultant specializing in open space preservation. He is also an avid cyclist and occasionally writes about the economic benefits of rail trails.
Just so that readers can know the Silver Comet does not end in Cedartown, it continues to the Alabama Georgia State line where it continues to Anniston Alabama and The Alabama Trail is named the Chief Ladiga Trail. It has some wonderful scenery also. The Chief Ladiga trail is 32.5 miles long. So if you ride from Smyrna, GA to Anniston Alabama it is approx. 92 miles.
Trails could generate even more for local economies if it was easy for vacationers to find a safe bike route or other car-free transportation from the airport or train station to lodging, and to the trail. Who wants to rent a car to have it sit at a trailhead for a week? I'm looking into such a vacation now, and this trail looks like a good possibility. There's public transportation to Smyrna. Having access to the amenities of a city (Atlanta, in this case) at one end of the trip also enhances the appeal of a trail vacation. Still need to find a way to either ship my bike and have it shipped back, or rent a good bike that fits me. I'm sure all of these arrangements can be made, I'm just not finding it easy to find the info as I look at rail-trails throughout the U.S.
There are signs on the Silver Comet Trail with mile markers, etiquette and safety info. In Hiram at Seaboard and Depot Drive intersection there are great bathrooms with indoor plumbing, two parking lots, a firestation, and an O'Charley's restaurant with a large mural of the Silver Comet Trail train 2 blocks away! I wish each sign encouraged the Buddy System.
Please visit www.connectthecomet.org and sign the petition for extending the Silver Comet Trail from Smyrna to the beltline at midtown Atlanta.
JT and I rode the Silver Comet /Chief Ladiga trail ... and will do again! What a great 92 miles not having to deal with ANY traffic!
Tours are available on the Silver Comet Trail from Smyrna, GA to Cave Springs, GA or Anniston, AL through Southeastern Cycling Tours, LLC and bike rental can also be arranged. For more info go to www.secyclingtours.com.
For information on cycling tours on the Silver Comet Trail visit www.secyclingtours.com. Bike rentals can be arranged.
There's a lot of historic sites in downtown Rome all over really from the buildings to the old train bridge that would turn the trains around to go back in the other direction and also the cotton block where the old docks are that the boats would unload cotton and a lot of historic houses where general lee stayed for a short time during the confederate war tons of history packed into such a small quaint town.
PLEASE bring the trail to ROME!!!! We love the silver comet and have to drive to Dallas to jump on!!!
A great addition to the Silver Comet Trail would be the abandoned Norfolk Southern line between Rome and Cave Spring. That trail could then connect to the Silver Comet Trail near Cedartown.
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