American Trails is Sharpening Our Focus

Over the last two years American Trails has worked with Active Strategies to find out how we can best serve the trail community. These are the results.

by American Trails Staff

Research Findings

There is a growing and diverse industry and community growing around the idea that trails are fundamental to quality of life in both small rural towns and large metropolitan mega-regions. As demonstrated through research presented throughout this project and beyond, the trail movement is at its zenith nationally.

Trails are becoming the new connective tissue of communities and are supporting a growing list of peripheral industries like outdoor recreation, urban planning, landscape architecture, public health, etc... Real innovation is occurring in both the design and scale of trails. In fact, large scale rural and urban trail developments are really changing the idea of what a trail is beyond the simple corridor of the past. Trails are no longer just the way people move through open space and parks, they now connect parks, neighborhoods, communities, and regions together.

Trails have become one of the most important forms of public infrastructure being used today - acting as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and/or trail oriented economic development. The trails movement continues to grow at pace as the nation discovers the power of trails in all their forms.

3 Top Priority Efforts through 2021

1. Trails and Outdoor Recreation Summit (TORS)

We have consistently heard from our partners that it would be great to have a larger "big tent" type of event inviting more of the key representatives of the trails community. In September of 2021 we will take our first step in addressing this need by taking what has traditionally been the International Trails Symposium and morphing it into the Trails and Outdoor Recreation Summit. We will be partnering with the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals for a larger and more comprehensive event with shared thought leadership as well as more exhibitors, workshops, and activities designed to bring trail professionals and leaders to the next level.

2. Trails Move People Collaboration to Develop Research and a "Trail Fund"

We will be working as leaders within the Trails Move People (TMP) Coalition to build a full fledged national trails movement that solves today's most pressing problems. To this end we will be working on developing a "Trail Fund" focused on addressing the trail maintenance backlog on State and local public lands, and launching pilot research projects within the next two years that will be used toward industry advocacy.

3. Developing Trail Professional Development Opportunities

American Trails is also actively working with our partners in Federal, State, and local agencies and a spectrum of nonprofit organizations on professional development programs to help trail professionals have baseline standard skills and practices and create a more informed and uniform trails industry. Building on our past leadership of the National Trails Training Partnership, we will bring together a diverse spectrum of the trails community around a set of shared visions and efforts dedicated to building our industry's professionalism and effectiveness.

American Trails' Role in the Trails Community

American Trails is well-positioned to tap into this trails movement and lead it. Our strategic repositioning plan is built to take advantage of our existing strengths and its opportunities in this movement. This plan will help American Trails take its place as an innovative and impactful leader of the national trails movement and of the community and industry that it is spawning.

As an organization we always have and will continue to advocate for trails in all capacities, and help tell the the compelling stories of the value of trails. These initiatives will only further that goal, and we are excited to move forward with renewed purpose.

6 Strategic Thrusts

The six market-based strategic thrusts of our organization are:

1. Trail Community Leadership

Leverage AT’s current products/services and initiatives (ITS, Federal Program Management, Trails Move People coalition) into a fully developed trail community leadership role.

How we can have an impact in 2021...

  • Build the brand, content, and visibility of the Trails and Outdoor Recreation Summit.
  • Grow Trails Move People into a full fledged national trails movement.
  • Build partnerships and strengthen the trails community

2. Research

Establish a robust and collaborative trail community research capacity with a focus on the development and understanding of how trails and the burgeoning trails industry create value and impact at the community, state, and federal level. We will utilize the data and knowledge from research initiatives to inform and the collective trails knowledge base that can become the foundation of the professional development trail professionals and promotion of the value of trails.

How we can have an impact in 2021...

  • Working with partners, plan and seek to establish a trails academic research center with a leading university or government agency partner.
  • Develop research and data supporting a "Trail Vision for America" report, which will in turn support common messaging and advocacy as well as fund development for the trails community.

3. Professional Development and Certification

Work with our partners to expand the trails community's current knowledge base and trails education programs into a fully developed professional development program including professional certification, organizational accreditations, and trail industry standards.

How we can have an impact in 2021...

  • Build consistency and professionalism of the trails industry through agreed upon and well-defined trail core competencies.
  • Build a Trail Community Map that serves to connect trails educators with those needing trails training, and trail professionals, stewards, and volunteers with the trail managers that need their skills, expertise, and energy.
  • Support partner efforts at developing certifications around needed skill sets.

4. Brand Messaging, Marketing, and Trail Community Promotion

Establish a strong trails community message and brand using research and professional development programming as a vehicle for high visibility community promotional and marketing efforts. Use research findings to promote and market the value and benefits of trails.

How we can have an impact in 2021...

  • Work with TMP and the larger trails community to develop a national campaign that promotes trails, their impacts, and their value.

5. Advocacy/Policy

Establish a strong collaborative trails community advocacy program that will drive pro-trail policy at federal, state and local level. This effort also includes trails advocacy aimed at municipal, corporate, and foundation communities related to trails.

How we can have an impact in 2021...

  • Along with TMP partners and other trails community leaders, develop a yearly Trails Community Legislative Agenda and Policy Agenda and share these documents widely with state and local advocates to ensure common messaging and efforts.
  • Use the research and data supporting a "Trail Vision for America" report to support common messaging and advocacy for the trails community.

6. Fund and Resources Development

Establish a strong, privately supported "Trail Fund" capacity by engaging a broader trails community, the healthcare community, the travel and tourism industry, and the outdoor recreation industry. This effort will consistently evaluate and address the greatest needs of the trails community and will establish the best practices for articulating the value and impact of trails on each of these communities.

How we can have an impact in 2021...

  • Develop, implement, and fundraise for a national level "Trail Fund" focused specifically on addressing the trail maintenance backlog on State and local public lands, supporting trail stewardship training and development, and key research supporting the development of the "Trail Vision for America" report.
  • Build out a robust trail-oriented Business Directory and Trail Community Map to connect people with the trail leaders, vendors, and experts that they need to do their job well.

American Trails is incredibly excited for our newly invigorated efforts to support and strengthen the trails community. We look forward to working with you all to make more and better trails available to every person in our nation. Please join us!

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