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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trail Towns and Bicycle Tourism

Johnson City's Development Authority recently purchased a 1908 railroad depot which has been a poster child for urban blight. With creative insight that depot is being transformed into a center for local history, place to gather for coffee, and local goods and crafts vending space, and bicycle rental and repair facility. Most importantly the depot is turning into a Trail Head for urban and rural trails that are being planned and built in the region. What makes this so exciting is the city and area are being transformed into a version of what is called a "Trail Town". Capturing trail-based tourism based on the Trail Town concept has been modeled in many areas of the country and has provided a boost for local economies, increase concern for bicycle safety, and a change of attitude among the driving public for bicyclists.
The board of directors and members of Bike Walk Tennessee , the Southern Appalachian Greenways Alliance, and the Tweetsie Historic Trail Association are strong advocates such change and have campaigned for the acquisition of a ten mile unused rail line for a rail-to-trail project. This accessible multi-use trail will link the depot trail head with two municipalities, a university, downtown shopping area, a farmer's market, a medical center, and Community Senior Center and Aquatics campus, Buffalo Mtn. City Park, various elementary schools and playgrounds, and much more.

Regionally we are joining together with bike club leaders, bike shop owners, bike promoters, and hiking clubs to form the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition of NE Tennessee. The goal of this planned organization is to be an advocate for change in laws and attitudes to make biking and walking safer and to build links such as is happening in Johnson City to interconnect trails.

Any trail, long or short, is a valuable asset to a community. It
provides free recreation for people of all ages and fitness levels,
and offers opportunities to study nature or local history. This
guide is oriented to towns that connect to long-distance trails,
ones that attract travelers from outside the local community and
are not used solely by nearby residents. Studies show that the
longer a trail is, the farther people will travel to visit it, the longer
they will stay, and the more money they will spend. A day-tripper
will spend four times as much as a local user will spend, and an
overnight visitor will spend twice the amount that a day-tripper
will spend.

A “Trail Town” is a destination along a long-distance trail. Whether on a rail trail,
towpath, water trail, or hiking trail—trail users can venture off the trail to enjoy the scenery, services, and heritage of the nearby community with its own character and charm. It is a safe place where both town residents and trail users can walk, find the goods and services they need, and easily access both trail and town by foot or vehicle. In such a town, the trail is an integral and important part of the community.

A Trail Town is a vibrant place where people come together. It may have a bike shop, an ice cream parlor, casual restaurants, a grocery store, and quaint local shops. It has wide sidewalks, clean streets, bike racks, and benches at convenient locations. It has places to rest for the night. It generously meets the needs of both the trail users and the town residents.

A Trail Town is a friendly place that encourages trail users to visit and welcomes them with warm hospitality. Trail Towns are not stand-alone communities; they are linked by the trail corridor. Trail users may be passing through a town on a day trip or long-distance trek, or may drive to a community and park to access a river or trail. Trail users want to explore interesting places in their travels and will need services that your town can provide. Basic elements of a Trail Town strategy include:
• Enticing trail users to get off the trail and into your town
• Welcoming trail users to your town by making information about the
community readily available at the trail
• Making a strong and safe connection between your town and the trail
• Educating local businesses on the economic benefits of meeting trail
tourists’ needs
• Recruiting new businesses or expanding existing ones to fill gaps in the
goods or services that trail users need
• Promoting the “trail-friendly” character of the town
• Working with neighboring communities to promote the entire trail
corridor as a tourist destination.

Here's hoping for more cities and towns to get that trail town attitude and befriend hikers, walkers, and cyclists as they pass by. Its a change well worth the advocacy and effort.

(Some material for this article has been borrowed from Pennsylvania’s “Capturing Trail-Based Tourism”.)

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