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Connellsville undergoes trail town reassessment

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 10:09 p.m.
Jim McIntire (left), a Yough River Trail Council member, speaks with Grace Markum, facilitator for the Trailtown Assessment Committee, during a walk through assessment of the Yough River Trail and businesses in Connellsville on Thursday, October 11, 2012. Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier

As part of a trail town reassessment on Thursday afternoon, nearly a dozen people fanned out across Connellsville, armed with trail town checklists.

Through early next year, community reassessments will be conducted for the six Pennsylvania and two Maryland trail towns along the Great Allegheny Passage.

The project marks the first major assessment since 2007, said William Prince, coordinator of the Trail Town Program.

“The idea today is to take a walk in the field and work through the checklist. We want to appreciate what's been done so far and where we still see areas of improvement,” said Grace Markum, assessment facilitator.

“We know lodging has been an issue,” Prince said.

Goals included discussing what types of businesses to try to attract and what amenities might best provide “a well-rounded visit for all,” Prince said.

Participants were asked to complete a checklist that reviews traffic and access issues, including safety and parking; perception of businesses, from window displays to grocers and restaurants; and speciality shops such as cafes and candy or ice cream vendors.

Participants were asked to check for bike rentals and racks, convenience stores and cash machines.

They checked the cleanliness of store windows, the condition of sidewalks, number of benches and trash cans.

Notes were made about the number of trail-access parking spots, drinking fountains and public restrooms.

Inside Crawford Avenue's West Side News, proprietors Ed and Rita Bornstein said they receive a lot of out-of-town business from trail users.

Open seven days a week, they said they have chatted with visitors from Australia, Germany and England, and often recommend local restaurants.

“We know most of the stores in the area,” Rita Bornstein said.

“They are ambassadors to what you are trying to do,” Markum told the assessment group.

At the Connellsville Bed and Breakfast, owner John King estimated 60 percent of his and wife Lucille's business comes from trail riders.

Back at the Yough River Trail Council building, evaluators reviewed pluses and minuses from their tours.

James McIntire, trail council vice president, noted recent efforts to clean up the downtown area.

He also noted ground was broken recently on Crawford Avenue for the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop and Harry Clark's Indian Creek Valley Railroad Display, a Fayette County Cultural Trust project.

“I think that is going to be a big attraction for Connellsville,” McIntire said.

Emma Strong, project leader with Trail Town Outreach Corps, suggested a sign directing trail users to the city's business district.

One downside several people mentioned was businesses not posting clearly visible hours of operation, or closing on Sunday, when trail use may be heavier.

Markum wondered if business operators who have found success in other trail towns might consider setting up shop in Connellsville.

City sustainability coordinator Geno Gallo suggested a coffee shop or hostel to anchor the West Side and encouraging visitor exploration downtown.

Murals were suggested to brighten up the blank sides of some buildings, visible to approaching cyclists.

Suggestions included more greenery and “No Littering” signs.

Several mentioned the new garbage cans and benches on city sidewalks.

A few noted the decorative windows at the former Big Apple Gear storefront.

“We could encourage more of that,” Prince said.

After reviewing information from the town trail checklists and meeting notes, Prince will release a report summarizing findings.

The report will be used in the development of potential priorities and projects.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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