Building a Future on a Proud Past
Trail Towns Conference Well Attended
by John Conway
HURLEYVILLE, May 2022 — David Kahley says he “is all about economic development,” so it might seem incongruous that he was in Hurleyville last month as the keynote speaker at the Trail Towns Conference sponsored by Sullivan Renaissance and held at the Michael Ritchie Big Barn on the campus of The Center for Discovery.
But Mr. Kahley’s career since 1997 has been based on promoting economic development around tourism, and by extension, around trails.
As founder and C.E.O. of The Progress Fund, Mr. Kahley’s primary activity is facilitating loans to underserved small businesses and microenterprises in the tourism and local food industries, and toward that end, he created the Trail Town Program in 2007.
In his address, Mr. Kahley touted the Trail Town Program as the first ever “bicycle –based economic development program,” and discussed at length his group’s experience in helping fund development of the Great Allegheny Passage from Cumberland, Maryland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a major tourist attraction.
Mr. Kahley said the Great Allegheny Passage attracted a million visitors annually from 2016 to 2019, and those visitors, 76,000 of whom spent one or more nights along the 150-mile route, accounted for more than $121.2 million in total economic impact, including nearly $75 million in annual spending at the businesses in the vicinity of the trail.
He presented as an exemplar, the community of Rockwood, in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. It was once a thriving rail town, fell on hard times, and is now prospering as a Trail Town along the Great Allegheny Passage, dedicated to “building a future on a proud past.”
Mr. Kahley told those in attendance that the length of any trail was the single most important factor in drawing visitors, and he urged Sullivan County leaders to continue efforts to link the various sections of the O&W Railway trails in the county.
“There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, and it will take years to complete,” he said, pointing out that the Great Allegheny Passage was 35 years in the making. “But the good news is that you have a really good start with all these individual pieces.”