CLEMSON — A research team from Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department proved crucial to the city of Pickens’ effort to get funds to improve and extend its multi-use Doodle Trail.

The city recently received $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to create Pickens Doodle Park thanks in large part to data collected and analyzed by Clemson researchers that helped illustrate current use and potential positive health impacts of the Doodle Trail.

Citizens of Pickens and Easley celebrated the opening of the 7.5-mile rail-to-trail partnership on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. When Becky Horace started in her role as project manager for the city of Pickens, she knew the trail was far from finished.

Horace knew the fastest route to the funds that would make a Doodle Trail trailhead possible would come from an ARC grant. However, to successfully acquire these funds, Horace needed data that would prove what she knew to be true from her own personal observations and feedback from Doodle Trail patrons.

“Previous studies revealed that Pickens wasn’t a premiere destination for physical activity and I knew the Doodle Trail was helping to change that,” Horace said. “I thought this might be a great opportunity for Clemson researchers to study the effects of spaces like the Doodle Trail and the data they could obtain would help us make a case for funds that would facilitate the creation of a park at Pickens trailhead.”

Horace contacted Charles Chancellor, an associate professor director of the Clemson University Bicycle Research Team. The team strives to promote cycling holistically as part of community development and as a contribution to an area’s quality of life.

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Charles Chancellor (left) and Paul Gremillion collected data about the Doodle Trail that led to a grant award that will establish Pickens Doodle Park.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Chancellor not only saw the project as a great opportunity for his students, but also as a way to do something tangible for the county and region. He recruited a team of students led by master’s student Paul Gremillion. Together, they developed a survey asking trail users how they use it and what businesses they frequent because of it.

According to Gremillion, survey results indicated that the trail draws people not only from surrounding counties, but from five different states, and the boost to tourism has brought money into the city’s restaurants, shops and convenience stores. As far as health focused questions, the survey’s big find was that 24 percent of respondents reported that without the Doodle Trail, they wouldn’t exercise at all.

“That’s the kind of black-and-white data you don’t always get in trail research,” Chancellor said. “It shows the trail is making a contribution toward improving the health of area residents who were not exercising previously.”

According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the Doodle Trail accounts for 7.5 miles out of a total of 22,875 miles of rail trails across the nation. Rails-to-trails projects like the Doodle Trail transform unused railroad corridors into “vibrant public places.” Trails come in all shapes and sizes; Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park accounts for 240 miles all on its own.

Multi-use trails are on the rise across the country for several reasons, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. They not only provide options for healthy recreation, but they also provide viable transportation corridors and tourist attractions, preserve communities’ identities and boost surrounding economies while preserving green spaces.

Gremillion said he was excited to lead the project because of his interest in this intersection of leisure activities and health, and the experience helped further illustrate the influence parks and green spaces can have on exercise. He said he was happy to get a head start on research into these topics, and the responses even provided a few pleasant surprises for him and his team.

“I was surprised by how passionate the trail users were about the fact that it was their trail,” Gremillion said. “The people who responded really took pride in the fact that their city has a real trail that they can use to exercise and connect with people.”

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