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arrow From the Summer 2016 American Trails Magazine


Trail Towns 101

By Amy Camp, American Trails Board Member


American Trails hosted the webinar “Trails and Towns Together” with presenter Amy Camp. The webinar focused on how communities capitalize on trails and tourism. Participants asked a lot of questions on how to get started in creating a “trail town” program. Here’s a primer to help you in getting started:

photo of cyclist outside store

how ready is your community to receive trail visitors?


First of all, don’t wait to launch a formal program to get started with improvements. The trail town approach is about connecting “trail-to-town” for the benefit of both trail users and trail communities. Things like signs, bike racks, bike lanes, “welcome” messages, horse hitches, and public art are all examples of physical cues that can enhance a trail user’s visit. Go ahead and get started!

Be clear on your purpose. There are trail community programs throughout the U.S., all run independently and focused on a single trail or region. Some are intended to bolster local economies. Others are focused on pride of place and recognizing communities that make efforts to embrace their trail. Work to clarify why you want to establish a trail town program and what value it will bring to the region.

• Decide on some particulars. Existing programs vary in depth of services offered and the number of towns involved. A program will almost certainly require some level of staff support. What entity will run the program? Most of the programs that I know of are managed by nonprofits in the realm of trails or economic development. Decisions will need to be made on how communities are designated, how they maintain the designation, what services are offered to communities, and how the program will be funded and sustained.

• Look to other programs as you build your own. The most known programs are the Trail Town Program along the Great Allegheny Passage, the Appalachian Trail Community Program (they have great resources online), and the Kentucky Trail Town Program. The Kentucky program is unique in that it is run by the state tourism office and is not specific to a single trail. Look to these programs as examples as you build your own.

• Assess, track, and reassess. An early first step for most programs is to gauge how ready communities are to receive trail visitors. Is the route into town safe and pleasant? What kind of first impression does the town make? Are businesses open evenings and weekends? A community process can be built around this assessment and provide both baseline data and a path forward. It’s also important to arm yourself with information. Demonstrate the value of your trail through counts, economic impact data, and stories shared by local business owners. Show that the trail is of benefit and could be even more beneficial if there is an intentional effort to connect trail-to-town.


Amy Camp, owner of Cycle Forward, helped to launch the nationally-recognized Trail Town Program® in 2007, and now consults communities on how they can rethink trails and tourism.

For more information:

Making trail memories that last: why experiential travel matters in trail communities

Trail towns: creating memorable destinations for trail users

Trail towns on Great Allegheny Passage benefit from visitor spending

Recorded webinar: "Trails and Towns Together: How Communities Capitalize on Trail Tourism"

Trail Towns website:

Download the 51-page Trail Towns: Capturing Trail-Based Tourism (pdf 4.8 mb)

Great Allegheny Passage:

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