Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods
Focus On: Promotion and Programs
Trail advocates sometimes use the old mantra, "Build it and they will come," to describe the immediate success of new trails. But complexities of the built and social environments in urban areas present factors that may affect trail use and require programmatic interventions to encourage use once the trail is constructed. Research indicates that strategies to "increase perceived trail safety, accessibility, and awareness about trails may result in a higher rate of trail use and more time spent on urban trails" (Wolch, 2010). Hosting trail events and activities, whether frequent or one-time, big or small, can extend the benefits of the trail into the nearby community.
When focusing on encouraging trail use, local community groups and trail managers should adopt a new mantra: "Build it, promote it, program it and they will come." Whether your trail is in the planning phase or has been open for many years, conducting community outreach is essential to encouraging trail use among neighborhood residents. This summary presents lessons from Washington, D.C., and cities in California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Louisiana and Michigan. Learn how these communities are finding innovative ways to promote and program their trails through outreach, events and activities.
Know whom to invite and involve—and take notes!
Leverage the event as a launching pad for advocacy, or magnify the event's impact by including local elected officials and community leaders. Elected officials can become champions of the trail and work as an ally to ensure the trail is developed, maintained and cared for by the city. Reach broadly for your audience and partner with schools, the faith-based community and neighborhood groups as you plan events and activities. Collect surveys or program evaluation forms to identify who is currently served by your programming and how future programming can reach under-represented populations. Don't forget to document it! Photos, video, audio and written comments will help you illustrate the value of events and community-based programming on your trail.
Kalamazoo, Mich . — Kalamazoo River Valley Trail
The Parks Foundation of Kalamazoo County and the Kalamazoo County Parks Department conducted a market research report to create recommendations for future programming. In 2010, the Foundation completed a Trail Programming report that highlights implemented programs, trail activities and includes data about trail use.
Promote , promote, promote
Use the media and other online resources like listservs, Facebook and Twitter, but couple this outreach with word-of-mouth and personal efforts. Partner with neighborhood groups to send your message to the community, go door to door inviting nearby residents to the trail, and promote your event and programs at other well-attended community activities. These methods can be time-consuming but are sometimes the best way to reach nearby residents.
Washington, D.C. — Met Branch Trail
In 2010, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) celebrated National Trails Day by hosting an event with Kaiser Permanente on the Met Branch Trail. The event, called "Meet the Met: Party on the Met Branch Trail," introduced surrounding communities to a new pathway that had opened just one month before. While some area residents had been involved with the long history of getting the trail built, many in the surrounding neighborhoods didn't know the trail existed. RTC partnered with neighborhood associations, nearby schools and youth mentoring programs, city agencies, local arts organizations, bicycle retailers and advocacy groups and a business improvement district to promote and host a grand opening for trail users and neighborhood residents. Elected officials, from neighborhood-level commissioners to city council representatives, were invited and attended to show their support of the trail. Nearly 1,000 people turned out on a hot June day for the celebration, and of the 200-plus surveyed, nearly half had never been on the Met Branch Trail before. Watch the video to learn more.
Be creative without reinventing the wheel
Partner with existing groups to host events or do outreach. Showcase the trail, but demonstrate local connectivity by incorporating neighborhood destinations and involving local organizations, businesses and agencies.
Volunteers construct an informational kiosk out of
reused materials on the Lafitte Corridor to create
more community awareness about the project.
Use annual days of observation for trail activities and events. Many trail and neighborhood groups focus on community stewardship opportunities for National Trails Day or Earth Day. Some notable nationally observed days that incorporate community service and stewardship include:
San Francisco Bay Area, Calif. — Iron Horse Regional Trail
In 2009, East Bay Regional Park District teamed up with Bay Area Regional Transit to host "Tracks to Trails," an event to promote physical activity on the Iron Horse Regional Trail in California's Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Participants were encouraged to "Walk, Run, Roll, or Ride" and visit a series of energy stations along the 24-mile trail.
Cleveland, Ohio — Morgana Run Trail
The Morgana Run Trail in Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood knows how to party. As part of "Walk + Roll," a large neighborhood walking and biking festival, neighborhood residents took to the streets and the trail to play games, visit local business and organization open houses, paint murals and eat ice cream. Among many other events on the trail, Slavic Village Development organizes "Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound," an annual event for dog owners and lovers to enjoy the Morgana Run Trail with their four-legged friends.
Case Studies: Promotions and Programs
Learn about creative approaches to trail programming to raise awareness of a trail project in New Orleans, La., and increase trail use in Springfield, Conn.
Hundreds of community members participated in the annual Lafitte Corridor Hike in 2011.