USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien recently spent a few days in Pennsylvania talking with flourishing businesses in charming trail towns along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a rail trail that runs from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. Many businesses along the trail have received funding through The Progress Fund, a non-profit community development lender. The Progress Fund is the recipient of several Rural Development Business Program loans and grants which were passed on to the trail town businesses to help spur economic development in distressed rural areas.
The trail affects the local economy in many ways, including an increase in property values, jobs, investment and general consumer spending. According to the Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Study, approximately 800,000 trips are taken on the GAP annually, 76 new trail-related businesses have opened and over 93 new jobs were created. In addition to the economic impact, trail towns are vibrant places where people come together. Some travelers pass through on short day trips and others are on multi-day trips, including a bicyclist from Vancouver who shouted, “Hello” to O’Brien as he headed South on the GAP toward Maryland. A cycle shop in Confluence proudly displays the hometowns of cyclists who stop while travelling through the small town. For several years, a U. S. map display worked, but now the shop uses a globe adorned with thumb tacks representing world-wide visitors.
O’Brien and Rural Development State Director Tom Williams visited nine trail town businesses in two days. They also announced a sewer system loan and grant in Connellsville, another town located on the GAP trail. Bullskin Township/Connellsville Township Joint Sewer Authority received Rural Development Water and Environmental Program funds to expand its waste water collection and conveyance system to 265 homes and businesses.