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Volunteers to Count Walkers, Bikers on Great Allegheny Passage

How many people use the Pittsburgh region’s longest trail?

Volunteers will be counting the number of walkers and bikers along the Great Allegheny Passage Aug. 17.

The synchronized tallying, which is done at multiple locations several times a year, is a physical count of the number of people using the trail; are they walking or bike riding; and if they are going north or south.

When manual counts are taken, volunteers take down users’ zip codes to track the number of people visiting.

The 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile long C&O Canal Towpath in Cumberland, Maryland. Together, the trails form a 334.5 mile route between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Peter Grella, outreach corps fellow with the Trail Town Program, said the trail counts benefit small and large businesses in the towns along the passage.

“It also might be useful for people in towns along the trail to see how many visitors are coming through and what services they might need in town, like bike shops or needs for lodging,” Grella said. “So, it’s also useful for economic data.”

Annual direct spending attributed to trail users was $40.8 million in 2008 and business owners said 25 percent of their revenues come as a result of their proximity to the trail, according to the website American Trails.

Electronic counters are also used from the spring through the fall.

“They do this so we can figure out how many people are using different sections of the trail under the same conditions, on a single day, under single weather conditions and a single time of day,” Grella said.

Synchronized count locations will be set up in Homestead, McKeesport, Boston, and Buena Vista in Allegheny County.

800,000 trips are taken annually on at least one part of the Great Allegheny Passage, according to American Trails.

Grella said most of the volunteer positions for Saturday’s trail count have been filled, but people are still needed for counts on Sept. 22 and Oct. 7.

Those interested in volunteering can register online.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."