This story out of Pittsburgh was picked up nationally, and while it focuses on Pennsylvania much of it is about the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal.
Demagall, now 42, is a symbol of all the trails have meant, not only to bikers and hikers, but to the economies of communities along the way.
He operates Golden Triangle Bike Rental, a booming bicycle rental and touring service, near the northern terminus of the Great Allegheny Passage, which connects to the C&O Canal Towpath Trail in Maryland, then on to Washington, D.C.
Demagall had 20 rental bicycles when he bought the business in 2006. Today he has a fleet of 200 bikes and logs tens of thousands of rentals a year, and provides support services for more than 500 riders a year who come from around the world to ride from Pittsburgh to Washington.
His business blossomed as development of the Great Allegheny Passage brought it closer to Pittsburgh, where it finally landed three years ago.
Well before that, Demagall saw how the trails were energizing nearby communities, he said.
It was the Great Allegheny Passage that changed hearts and minds about having trails pass through communities as link after link of rail trail was completed, Demagall said.
As the trail flourished, concerns about the impact of foot and bike traffic and an influx of people from outside the communities diminished.
A 2012 study pegged the economic impact of the trail at $50 million a year. Not a bad return for a project completed at a cost $80 million to build over 30 years.
If only this lesson could be transferred
He remembers when people in Connellsville pushed back against the trail, predicting it would bring “derelicts” and “thieves” to town.
“I think we've converted most of the locals. They see just how much business it brings in,” he said.
And to tie it in locally
Eric Oberg, director of the Midwest regional office of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, said planners, encouraged by the success of the Great Allegheny Passage, are looking for ways to link a series of trails in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia to create a 1,450-mile loop they've dubbed the Industrial Heartland Trail.