Downtown Leaders Across Oakland Co. Gather to Learn the Value of Trails
(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 4, 2018)
Ferndale, MI – Bikes, snowmobiles and boats are all popular ways for people to connect with the great outdoors. And communities throughout the country have learned how to capitalize on trailways to bring recreation users into their Downtowns. Lessons from those successful communities could help others attract new visitors and businesses, and Oakland County Main Street provided the perfect opportunity to share them at their two-day conference in Ferndale last month.
Harry Burkholder, Executive Director of Land Information Access Association, gave the presentation.
“In most cases, the trail system is the first or second most visited place in a community,” Burkholder said.
Valuing the trail as a way to attract visitors, and finding ways to lure those visitors off the trails and into the Downtown are the keys to tapping into their economic potential.  Some cities are near trails, but have no sense of connection or place.  Others make it a focal point, or even theme, of their community. He shared many ideas.
~In Long Beach California, stores that have a special sticker in their window give 10% off to guests who ride their bike to their store.
~Make sure trails are interesting places with comfortable spaces, with plenty of things to see and inviting places to rest.
~Keep in mind that it’s about both infrastructure and selling the idea to the community.
~Bike racks, bike lanes, and bike valets
~In Colorado, one community saw so much bicycle traffic they added bike racks to the front of ambulances.  “If a guy’s got a broken leg, he still doesn’t want to leave his bike,” Burkholder said.
~Think about the trailhead, which is the area where people access the trail from their vehicles.  How welcoming is it?  Does it have signage promoting local dining and retail? Does it have parking and amenities like rest rooms, bike repair stations, boat storage, bike racks, quality maps, a welcome sign, emergency phones, info center etc?
~Some communities have an ice cream shop, bike shop, or brewery at the trailhead.
~Is there a way to directly connect the trail to the Downtown?
~If a person is coming from the trail to the Downtown, is there an inviting “gateway,” such as welcoming landscaping, signage etc?
~How friendly are local businesses to those using the trails?
~Does your town have wifi?
~Are there places to sit and relax?
~Are there public amenities such as restrooms?
~If someone shops in local stores, will they ship items that cannot be carried on a bike or kayak?
~Some places have vending machines with necessities and accessories, such as sunglasses, wipes, bandages etc.
~ Is there public art related to the recreation of the trail?
~Are there events or festivals that could invite trail users into the community, or events that can get residents and business owners onto the trails?
There are communities that have invested significantly in tails, but even those with small budgets can make small changes that have big impacts.  “Start with low hanging fruit,” Burkholder said, giving examples such as signage and promoting the trails as part of the community on social media, city website etc.
Having the community on board is also essential.  “Talk to business owners and get them involved,” he said.  “They may not see the value at first, but ask them questions like ‘how many people walk into your business with spandex?’”
He also suggested getting elected officials and residents out to the trails by simply inviting them out for walking meetings or hosting events at the trail locations so they can see the appeal and the potential as they ponder new ideas.
The more there is buzz in the community about the trails, the more people notice their impact.  “When you get to that trail-friendly mindset, it becomes part of your DNA,” he said.
One way to keep momentum going is by having a trail master plan. This can be done by staff or by a volunteer committee. It can be done with multiple communities working together as trials often cross municipal lines.  And there are organizations out there that can help.
Main Street Oakland County
Michigan Municipal League
Land Information Access Association
Trail Town
Outdoor Industry Association
Michigan Trails Magazine
Portland, OR
Austin, TX
Minneapolis, MN