My absolute favorite part of RTC’s 2014 Greenway Sojourn (June 22-27) was talking to many of my fellow 300 riders about their experiences as we made our way from just outside Wierton, W.V., to Cumberland, Md. Every evening, I would strike up a conversation with someone about the day’s ride; some exhausted after, say, their first 50-mile day, others eager to share their list of wildlife sightings, and all excited for what would come next.
One topic that everyone wanted to talk about was the communities through which we passed. We let our hard-earned dinners settle in our bellies, and the stories of trail-town interactions carried the conversation.
Confluence, Pa., where we spent our layover day (Day 4), truly rolled out the red carpet for us. Confluence is one of nine Trail Towns along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which are dedicated to maximizing the economic potential of the trail for their communities.
We were greeted on the edge of town by Scout and Addie, two of Confluence’s local young ladies, who handed out information about the town and “Tourism Tokens” to redeem at the local bike shop, Confluence Cyclery. Balloons tied to “Welcome, Sojourn!” signs led riders from the trail to the town square and pavilion where Sherman’s Old Fashion Ice Cream Parlor was passing out free ice cream.
Some riders opted for a break from sleeping in a tent each night and capitalized on the cozy bed and breakfasts of Confluence. Dinner was catered by a local restaurant on the first night and the local fire department on the second. This offered us the opportunity to taste the local fare and get to know our hosts, and infused a substantial chunk of change into the community! On the night before our departure, I followed the laughter and music over to the Lucky Dog Cafe and found the entire place packed with sojourn riders in vacation mode, more than willing to spend some cash on a beverage or two with new friends.
It was clear that the whole town had mobilized for the event, and the effort did not go unnoticed. Sandy Younkin, president of the Confluence Tourism Association, explained that Confluence is serious about trail tourism, stating, “This whole town makes an effort to make this a welcoming place. We welcome [the sojourn riders] back at anytime!”
Younkin, owner of the bed and breakfast and catering company, Confluence House, explained that more than 70 percent of her business comes from the trail. In fact, six folks who rode last year’s sojourn came back two weeks before this year’s sojourn on their own private trip. They had such a great time on the GAP and in the towns along its route that they returned—and brought their friends.
“We’re trying to make this a trail that you want to come back to!” Younkin said.
The trail town model fits many of these small communities quite well, and we have heard from business owners in the past about how important the trail is to their success. Trails mean business, and this couldn’t be more true in Confluence.
Other towns along the 191-mile sojourn route held our hearts in their own ways; I heard from my fellow riders about the welcoming interactions in the bike shop in Connellsville, the pub in West Newton, the coffee shop in Frostburg. A young girl showed me a pair of earrings that her mom bought her in Ohiopyle, I shared laughs over ice cream (my favorite treat on a bike trip) with a ride volunteer in Rockwood, and I heard tales of great beer and dancing in Myersdale. And the list goes on.
The trail is a central part of these communities—geographically in some cases, but more importantly, in terms of their economic value to the towns themselves. From earrings to ice cream to bike parts, the towns along the trail are providing what visitors need, and small town charm keeps visitors coming back to these charismatic communities, year after year.