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      Off-road trail brings in millions of dollars for Traverse City

      A recent study is shining light on just how much of an impact the VASA Trail has on Northern Michigan's economy.

      According to the study by Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) and the DNR, the VASA brings in more than $2.6 million annually.

      "What we learn from the study is that it brings in a lot of tourism money during nonpeak seasons that people wouldn't have otherwise come to Traverse City for," Hattie Christie, TART Interim Marketing and Outreach Director, said.

      The pathway is a non-motorized trail owned by the DNR, with TART as a partner to help maintain it. Popular activities on it include mountain biking, hiking, running, and skiing in the winter.

      "There really is no offseason," said Manton resident Jeff Harding. "In the spring, as the trails are dry, people are out riding bikes. Before that, people are out walking. There's always cars here no matter what time you're out."

      "You would be shocked at how year-round that is," Mike Norton, Traverse City Tourism Media Relations Director, said. "Obviously, much of it is in the summer but there are a fair number of people who bike in the spring and even in the winter (by) fat biking. So it is a year round activity."

      The study also found that 98% of people who rode the VASA Pathway would recommend the area to a friend or family member. It even served as a romantic place where a couple fell in love with each other and the terrain.

      "Well we fell in love on this trail," Harding's wife, Lisa, said. "This trail's always been a love of ours. It's something we love to come back to all the time."

      While the VASA winds through parts of northern Michigan's untouched wildernerss, the impact of those who use it is felt in surrounding shops, hotels and resturants when they get off their bikes or skies.

      "Other places you go, there's nothing to do," Lisa Harding said. "Here, you can go to dinner, do some shopping. There's always something else to do here and make a full day of it."

      "I think it's a wonderful thing," Christie said. "It diversifies the recreation activities we have in the area (with a) great bike path downtown and the other areas in Traverse City. It's a great asset to our community. It's what Michigan's all about. Outdoors in the woods experiencing nature and enjoying it ."

      The Michigan Department of Transportation just wrapped up a similar study that shows bicycling brings in an annual economic impact of more than $650 million for Michigan.