All About Trail Towns

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One of the places where outdoor recreation, particularly hiking or bicycling on major trails, meshes nicely with rural economic development programs is at trail towns.  Some local government and private agencies promote communities as trail towns after the towns develop linkages to trail systems, provide services of interest to hikers and bicyclists and show that they are committed to giving these recreationists a positive experience.  The idea is to provide trail users that visit these small towns with the services and experiences they want, giving the town more economic activity.  In other cases ‘trail towns’ is simply a generic term applied to towns near a trail.  These towns provide services to trail users without a formal designation.  Either way, trail towns that cater to trail users create a win-win situation.

Trail Town Program®

Youghiogheny River Gorge_from_great_allegheny_passage-225

Youghiogheny River Gorge from the Great Allegheny Passage.
Photo by Jacob Brown [CC BY-SA 4.0]

The term “Trail Town Program” is owned by and is an initiative of The Progress Fund.  They work closely with 21 small rural towns across western Pennsylvania and western Maryland to enhance economic development through linkages with trails.  The towns are associated with the following trails:

Trail Towns in Kentucky

Kentucky Trail TownsThe Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism has it’s own Kentucky Trail Towns Program.  The program is designed to help connect communities to trail systems and develop them as tourist destinations. It guides travelers to trails, food, lodging, campgrounds, museums, entertainment and other services. The designation helps communities improve their tourism economy, add more jobs and create more tourism opportunities for the entire state.  The state now has twelve trail towns with more being regularly added.

The state has developed a 65-page workbook to help towns meet the requirements for state certification as a trail town and thus become a part of the state’s promotional efforts.  To begin, a town:

  • must be near a trail or trails,
  • must be able to integrate cultural, historical and agricultural elements into the trail user experience
  • intend to become part of the Cross Kentucky Trail System

Next, a town must assess the potential for economic development associated with nearby trails. They then develop an action plan that includes all the work needed to get trail users into town, including developing of connecter trails, and to provide them with an appropriate experience in the community.  Finally, they implement the plan and obtain state certification.

The Columbia River Gorge

Cape Horn

Cape Horn in the Columbia River Gorge.
USDA Forest Service Photo

Friends of the Columbia Gorge, in Washington and Oregon, are working on an effort that connects rural towns to trails in and around the gorge.  Their program began in 2011 and has a goal of creating 60 miles of trails that connect towns along the Gorge to National Scenic Area lands. Their stated goals are to:

  • Create new trails, opening hidden vistas and waterfalls to Gorge recreation users
  • Benefit Gorge economy by connecting trails to communities
  • Support sustainable recreation through alternative transportation options
  • Create contiguous parcels of protected lands that benefit wildlife

Going even further,  the program includes seasonal bus service that, for $4 a day, gives hikers access to nine trail heads and communities in the Gorge.

Pacific Northwest Trail

The Pacific Northwest Trail Association has a user driven program that identifies trail towns where hikers can resupply and otherwise serve their needs.  They provide a map showing these towns and a forum thread that highlights the services available at each trail town.  Unlike the other programs, the focus is more on meeting the basic needs of hikers than on developing towns to better serve them while enhancing local economies.

Conclusion

As you can see there are several approaches to highlighting trail towns and connecting them to trail users.  The more effort communities put into becoming more attractive to trail users, the more those users will visit the community and the more economic activity users will generate in the community.  The concept definitely has merit.  If your town is near a major trail or even near a collection of local trails,  it could enhance its image as a trail town to benefit both trail users and the community.  You might want to look into the possibilities.

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