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Network's goal: Connect visitors to businesses

Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The number of Great Allegheny Passage hikers and bikers seeking food, lodging and other amenities is expected to greatly increase as the trail nears it scheduled June 15 completion.

“There will be a lot of celebrations with that, lots of big rides, a lot of people coming back to do the whole sojourn,” said Will Prince, Trail Town coordinator for the Progress Fund, on Thursday.

Prince and Bill Atkinson, Trail Town coordinator based in Cumberland, Md., hosted a forum to outline the new Trail Town Certified Business Network at the Carnegie Free Library in Connellsville.

The network combines two existing programs — the GAP Sustainable Business Network in Pennsylvania and the Trail Friendly business certification in Maryland.

About a dozen operators of businesses located along the 150-mile trail stretching from Cumberland to Pittsburgh attended the networking session.

“We need your help marketing yourselves, as well as us marketing you,” Atkinson said.

Program coordinators are preparing packages that, at no cost, will enable businesses to become Certified Trail Friendly or Certified Sustainable, or both.

Everything from rain barrels to bike racks can factor into a trail user's decision to stop and spend money, organizers said.

Side benefits Atkinson elaborated on from businesses that can declare themselves “sustainable” or “friendly” include better feedback from online reviews and increased tips for knowledgeable staff.

Rod Darby, operator of West Newton's The Trailside, suggested badges employees could wear, demonstrating they have been educated about the trail.

Big trips, such as the annual Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Greenway Sojourn, can bring hundreds of potential customers to a trail town at one time, Prince said.

“How do you know if they are just blowing through, or planning to stop?” Darby asked.

One outfitter suggested proprietors like Darby “pick the brains of tour planners” to get a better grasp of numbers, or work with planners to include pre-paid meals at specific stops as part of a tour.

Trail Town businesses providing services outside the “eat/sleep” variety also can benefit, they learned.

Examples of businesses reaching beyond their own clientele included a Cumberland florist who can arrange to have flowers waiting in a trail user's hotel room, and a laundry service whose staff will pick up and deliver for Trail Town bed and breakfast clients.

Connellsville health/wellness consultant Cathy Kumor suggested chiropractors, massage therapists and pharmacies all could benefit from trail business, especially if they offer services during peak usage, such as races or large tours.

Those attending agreed that semi-annual meetings, preferably in the fall and spring, would be beneficial. “We want to better this program to connect visitors to businesses and, more importantly, connect businesses with each other,” Prince said.

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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