COVID-19 restrictions may have kept tourists out of the South Burnett, but the lockdown has turned out to be an unexpected winner for the South Burnett Rail Trail.
During April, hundreds of locals took to the Trail for exercise according to counters maintained by the South Burnett Rail Trail Users Association (SBRTUA).
And the information collected by these counters is helping the group solve a long-standing problem.
SBRTUA secretary Jason Wyeth said the Rail Trail has attracted two distinct groups of users ever since it opened in October 2017: locals and tourists.
Finding out how many locals and tourists use the trail is important, because each group brings different benefits to the region.
“We know from many studies carried out on other trails what the average Rail Trail tourist spends on a visit,” Jason said.
“We also know that locals using the trail for exercise save our community health care costs, which can also be calculated.
“So when you know how many tourists and how many locals use the Trail, it’s possible to run both sets of figures through a calculator and get a pretty accurate idea of what benefits the Trail is bringing to the region – both in terms of tourist dollars and in terms of healthcare savings.”
Jason said there have always been counters on the Trail and they show that somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 people now use Rail Trail every year.
The challenge has been to split up the two groups – a task that seemed almost insoluble until COVID-19 came along.
Jason said the COVID-19 lockdown had eliminated tourists from the region overnight.
While this has been very bad news for South Burnett tourism operators, it turned out to be good news for the SBRTUA because the Trail’s counters are now measuring nothing but locals.
And the results are surprising.
Jason said that in April 257 people passed the Crawford counter, and Wondai’s counter had 556 people passing it.
“This data lets us work out that roughly two-thirds of current Trail usage is by locals, and the other third comes from tourists,” Jason said.
“From that, we can work out the economic and health benefits the Trail is producing every year, and they’re both substantial.”
Jason said the SBRTUA has been quietly working with the South Burnett Regional Council on enhancing the Trail further over the coming year.
One exciting project the group hope to unveil later this year are “loop rides” between Kingaroy and Tingoora which will take users off the Trail on short routes that will let them explore the South Burnett countryside.
“The South Burnett Rail Trail is 42km from Kingaroy to Murgon and experienced cyclists can do this in a day,” Jason said.
“But it’s in our region’s interests to keep them here longer if we can, because they’ll spend more if they stay longer.
“So the idea of the loop rides is to extend the Trail at the same time as we show off local beauty spots, and we’re very pleased this idea has drawn Council’s support.”
A second project – already in operation – was to construct a pathway off the Rail Trail to the South Burnett Mountain Bike Club’s forestry trails in the McEuen Forestry area, just south of Wondai.
This pathway has encouraged many new users to try the forestry trails, including some locals who weren’t aware they existed until they saw the path and sign on the Rail Trail.
A third project the group want to carry out is to get more counters along the Trail so they can increase the accuracy of traffic measurements.
“We’d like to have a counter on the Murgon-Goomeri unsealed section so we can get an idea about how many people use that,” Jason said.
“We’d also like to have another counter near the start of the trail in Kingaroy.
“We know lots of people do short walks or runs from there that don’t show up on the Crawford counter because of where it’s placed.
“A counter near there would let us separate locals who might do a kilometre or two from those who take more extensive trips along the Trail, and that would be useful to know as well.
“However, both the loop trail signs and the counters are dependent on grant funding, and we hope to secure that later this year.”