Trail Towns 101

December 21, 2016 - Amy Camp owns Cycle Forward and helps communities rethink trails and tourism.

Touring cyclists check out the town of Frostburg along the Great Allegheny Passage. 

“Trail town” and “trail community” programs have been popping up along destination trails all over the U.S. The programs help communities better connect to their trails and provide services to trail users, and they use trail tourism as a strategy for economic development and revitalization.

A group of cyclists stays at a Bed and Breakfast in Connelsville, along the Great Allegheny Passage. 

Amy Camp, owner of Cycle Forward, helped to launch the nationally recognized Trail Town Program® in 2007 along the Great Allegheny Passage and now consults communities on how they can rethink trails and tourism. Here's her primer for how to start building a “trail town” program in your own community. 

  • Don’t wait to launch a formal program to get started with improvements. The trail town approach is about connecting “trail to town” for the benefit of both trail users and trail communities. Things like signs, bike racks, bike lanes, “welcome” messages, horse hitches, and public art are all examples of physical cues that can enhance a trail user’s visit. Go ahead and get started!

  • Be clear on your purpose. There are trail community programs throughout the U.S., all run independently and focused on a single trail or region. Some are intended to bolster local economies. Others are focused on pride of place and recognizing communities that make efforts to embrace their trail. Work to clarify why you want to establish a trail town program and what value it will bring to the region.
Connellsville is a Trail Town that has installed protected bike lanes and bike route signs for touring cyclists on the Great Allegheny Passage. 
  • Decide on some particulars. Existing programs vary in depth of services offered and the number of towns involved. A program will almost certainly require some level of staff support. What entity will run the program? Most of the programs I know of are managed by nonprofits in the realm of trails or economic development. Decisions will need to be made on how communities are designated, how they maintain the designation, what services are offered to communities, and how the program will be funded and sustained.
  • Look to other programs as you build your own. The most known programs are the Trail Town Program along the Great Allegheny Passage, the Appalachian Trail Community Program (they have great resources online), and the Kentucky Trail Town Program. The Kentucky program is unique in that it is run by the state tourism office and is not specific to a single trail. Look to these programs as examples as you build your own.
  • Assess, track, and reassess. An early first step for most programs is to gauge how ready communities are to receive trail visitors. Is the route into town safe and pleasant? What kind of first impression does the town make? Are businesses open evenings and weekends? A community process can be built around this assessment and provide both baseline data and a path forward. It’s also important to arm yourself with information. Demonstrate the value of your trail through counts, economic impact data, and stories shared by local business owners. Show that the trail is of benefit and could be even more beneficial if there is an intentional effort to connect trail to town.

This first appeared in American Trails Magazine (Summer 2016 issue, page 12).

For more background on “trail town” programs, check out this past blog post, Trail Towns: Programs We Can Learn From.  Follow Cycle Forward on Facebook and Instagram and learn more at

Photo 1 by Doug Riegner | Photo 2 by Joni Foman | Photo 3 by Saara Snow.


BUILDING BICYCLE TOURISM is written by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on the growing national movement to build bicycle tourism, including economic impacts, bike friendly tips, multimodal travel, and resources for destination development and marketing.


Gregory Forrester December 22, 2016, 1:00 AM

Nice photo of bicyclists running a red light and illegally riding 2 abreast on a 2 way bike lane.

Log in to post a comment

Forgot Password?

Enter your email address and we'll send you an email that will allow you to reset it. If you no longer have access to the email address call our memberships department at (800) 755-2453 or email us at

Not Registered? Create Account Now.