It spans 165 miles from the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, along rivers, through the Lehigh Valley and Bucks County.

Even closer to home, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is in our backyard and winds through our towns, main streets and parks.

Exactly how the corridor benefits local communities was the topic of discussion at a recent Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Elissa M. Garofalo, president and executive director of the D&L National Heritage Corridor, opened things up with a brief promotional video.

Garofalo said she uses the promotional video as a tool to introduce the D&L to a broader audience.

All year long, the D&L is celebrating its 25th anniversary, she said.

Chamber President Peter Kern heaped praise on Garofalo.

"I think that the work you've done with the D&L, we're very proud of," Kern said. "We see it evolving every day."

Garofalo told chamber members that there's a certain culture, ethnicity and stories that are unique to each of them.

"We don't have to make it up," she said. "That makes you very unique."

Garofalo said the trail is about 85 percent complete. Once finished, it will have 165 miles of continuous trails.

"When we're done, we will have the longest trail in Pennsylvania," she said. "All eyes are on us to finish these trails."

Garofalo said, "this year is a planning year."

She said the D&L is in the process of working on sectional maps that show insets and communities.

Connecting the trail

Last year, Garofalo said three trailheads Lehighton; Black Diamond Trailhead, Luzerne County; and White Haven North were constructed, along with trail crossing improvements and sign installation.

The next two years will see construction of the Carbon County pedestrian bridge at Jim Thorpe and trail connectivity projects in Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties, she said.

Through work with local partners, a D&L Trail construction grant was awarded to Jim Thorpe to link the D&L Trail between the proposed pedestrian bridge southward to Weissport.

Strategic alliance

Garofalo discussed the recent strategic alliance between the corridor and Easton's National Canal Museum.

In August 2013, the National Canal Museum came under the management of the D&L Heritage Corridor, she said.

Garofalo said the museum is a terrific resource

"The Canal Museum houses archives of our history," Garofalo said. "We wanted to preserve that."

Garofalo said the Tales of the Towpath curriculum has proved to be a big success as well.

Economic Impact Study

In 2012, an economic impact study on the D&L Trail was conducted, Garofalo said.

While Jim Thorpe in the north region and New Hope in the south derive a similar amount of total economic impact from trail users, twice as many respondents report staying overnight in Jim Thorpe as compared to New Hope and Washington Crossing.

The major activities recorded along the trail were biking (46.9 percent), walking (29.7 percent), and jogging (8.2 percent), Garofalo said. Almost 80 percent of the survey respondents believe the trail has influenced the amount and frequency of these activities in their lives. Health is the primary purpose (52 percent).

Most (77.4 percent) of the D&L Trail survey respondents reported buying hard goods associated with their use of the trail, and reported spending an average of $425 on hard goods such as clothing, shoes, bicycles and accessories.

The majority or respondents (41 percent) also reported making the purchases at locally owned shops, while 37.2 percent reported purchasing from national and regional chains. Another 21.7 percent made their purchases online.

The purchase of soft goods was reported by 73.6 percent of respondents for an average dollar amount of $33.49 per visit. These purchases were reported to have been made in conjunction with their trail visit.

Overnight lodging is the third element used to derive overall economic impact at an average expense of $132.36 per night, with an average stay of 2.2 nights.

Garofalo then credited Lehighton, which recently built a trailhead and is used heavily.

"The same thing could happen in Palmerton, the idea of people staying here to use the trails," she said. "Lodging is missing."

Kern said it appears as though Palmerton may want to do more marketing.

Chamber member Jane Borbe said she believes the borough could use something with a brochure.

Garofalo took it a step further.

"I would suggest converting it and putting it online," she said. "I think it would be an awesome project to apply for hotel tax grants."