The expansion of the trail system in and near Fort Dodge, including a paved path that allows users to travel all the way to John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, is having a positive economic impact on several local businesses.
Gene Walker, co-owner of The Bike Shop in downtown Fort Dodge, is one of those.
"We're selling more across the board," he said.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Gene Walker, co-owner of The Bike Shop in downtown Fort Dodge, displays a new hybrid bike, a style that combines a mountain bike with a street bike, that’s popular with riders on the Fort Dodge trail system. Walker said he’s seen an increase in business from users of the system.
It's a mix of added business.
"A lot are getting their bikes out," he said. "There's a lot of service work."
He's also selling more bikes, particularly hybrid crossbikes, which are a mix of mountain and trail bike that are favored among trail riders.
In addition, sales of accessories such as helmets, outdoor clothing and even lights are up too.
He said the past year has been his best so far, largely due to the added number of people using the trails.
The safety of being on a trail, rather than riding on the streets, is one of the attributes the trail system offers.
"You can ride with your family," he said.
Walker would like to see the trail system expanded in the future. He said a trail from Fort Dodge to either Dolliver Memorial Park of Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, along the Des Moines River, would offer riders a nice destination and a scenic ride.
"How cool would that be?" he asked.
Craig Jarrard, owner of Brown's Shoe Fit Co., has seen business improve too.
"We sell a lot of running and walking shoes," he said. "We've noticed an increase."
Many of those, he said, are buying footwear to use on the trails.
In addition, he's recently added a line of outdoor clothing. The response to that has been good, he said. Some of those purchasers are heading for the trails as well.
Jarrard said he's glad to see the increased trail use, observing that people in general are becoming more active. It's good for the community and it's good for business.
"Anytime we can increase activity," he said, "it's good for the shoe business."
Matt Cosgrove, director of Webster County Conservation, has been active for several years helping to develop the area's trail system. He's happy to learn of the positive impact the system is having.
"It's what we were hoping for," he said.
Cosgrove would like to see the positive impact go even further.
"We hope it spurs additional businesses," he said.
That could include things like canoe rentals for the water trails, for example.
The economic benefits of the trails expand beyond clothing, shoes and bikes, he said.
"Medical costs and health care expenses are reduced for users," he said.
Stephanie Houk Sheetz, senior city planner with the Fort Dodge Department of Business Affairs and Community Growth, is pleased.
"Other areas have done studies," she said. "Every time it comes back that it's a positive."
She emphasized that the trail development has been a mix of federal, state and local funding, including a Vision Iowa Grant, and funding from the local private sector as well.
"We've pooled a lot of resources," she said. "It's great to hear it's worth it."
She said there is still work to be done. Trail signs are scheduled to be put up in the spring and there are still a few trail segments scheduled for spring completion.
Jacob Baardson, assistant manager at Decker Sporting Goods, said he can see an increase in sales related to the trails.
"It's mostly in areas directed towards running and biking," he said.
Sales of compression clothing - a type of outdoor gear worn by bike riders and runners to help stay warm - have risen.
Baardson has also noticed an increase in customers who arrive at his store on foot.
"We're getting more pedestrian traffic too."