For more than 20 years, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been one of the strongest members of Pennsylvania's trail development, advocacy and promotion community. Thanks in part to our efforts, Pennsylvania is now a state with plenty of rail-trail activity, a strong supporter base and a wonderful network of outdoor recreation assets.
Recognition of our long involvement in the state came this week with the appointment of Pat Tomes, program manager for RTC's Northeast Regional Office, to the newly formed Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources formed the committee to drive implementation of Pennsylvania's recently completed Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan, which encourages the development of a thorough trail network to facilitate outdoor recreation, provide alternative transportation routes and encourage healthy lifestyles.
As one of its authors, Tomes is familiar with the plan and the huge role that rail-trails will play in moving toward its goals. She says that in Pennsylvania, where so many rail-trails are already established, the challenges are different from states where the majority of effort goes into getting pathways built in the first place.
"Pennsylvania is a mature state, in terms of rail-trail development," Tomes says. "But there is a lot of work to do to further encourage usage--like how to connect the smaller pieces so people can utilize loops and networks, and providing better signage."
Tomes says she will urge the committee to give plenty of attention to the issue of wayfinding and tourism signage.
"The focus of funding is often on building and construction, and there are seldom many resources to promote the trails once they are built," she says. "I would like to see the various agencies--DOT, tourism, economic development--work together to make these trails easier to find, and make it easy for trail users to get to the communities and businesses along the way."
While RTC does a lot to promote Pennsylvania's trails, Tomes says, there is much more that could be done, and without spending a lot of money. As she knows from her experience in trail towns in the Northeast, a simple and inexpensive wayfinding sign pointing to a local main street or options for food and lodging has a marked impact on the value of that trail to the region's economy. It is this kind of on-the-ground experience that Tomes will bring to the new Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee.
For more information about the committee, and the Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan, visit www.paoutdoorrecplan.com.