Saturday is the national opening day for trails, and even though the Three Rivers Heritage Trail stays open year round, the Friends of the Riverfront will be out planting trees to get the trail ready for heavy traffic.
The opening day also corresponds with the release of a survey conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to evaluate users and economic impact. It found that the Three Rivers Trail has one of the greatest numbers of yearly visits and has among the highest economic impact of the trails surveyed by Rails-to-Trails. The group, which advocates for turning old train rails into trails, has done about 14 economic impact and user surveys, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The survey said that annually about 800,000 people use the trail and have an economic impact of around $8.3 million — $6 million of that is from people buying goods and services right along the trail.
But that’s not the only thing that stood out about Pittsburgh’s tails, according to the survey.
“The users of the Pittsburgh Trail are slightly younger than what we found other places," said Carl Knoch, the project manager for the survey. "Almost a quarter of the users are between the ages of 26 and 35.”
They also found that people use the trail more as the weather gets warmer, and it is usually most populated around lunchtime. Most people, 44 percent, use the trail for biking, and 32.7 percent use it for walking. Other popular activates were running, cross-country skiing and bird watching.
The survey also asked people what they wanted from the trails, the most popular answers were more trails and bathrooms.
Friends of the Riverfront is working to connect the trail throughout Allegheny County, and working to reach beyond Millvale as part of the Erie to Pittsburgh trail. The group is also working to connect to the Montour Trail via some Ohio communities.
But bathrooms are “just very difficult to manage in a trail environment,” said Knoch.
The event Saturday will start at 10 a.m. on 4th Street with the planting of the trees, and then there will be a bike ride from noon to 2 p.m., followed by a pizza party.