Saltsburg could get economic boost through Trail Town Program
Saltsburg will soon gain a new resource to help capitalize on its distinction as a trail town.
The Progress Fund, a Greensburg-based nonprofit community development financial institution, has expressed interest in adding both Saltsburg and Ebensburg to its Trail Town Program, which incorporates business development efforts around a burgeoning recreational trail system. Both communities are part of the Trans-Allegheny Trail System.
Will Prince, program manager with The Progress Fund, met last week with members of local trail groups — mainly from the West Penn Trail and Westmoreland Heritage Trail — and borough officials to give insight into what the organization offers.
“What's really cool about trails in our region, you might or might not use the trails in your community, but people come from hours and states away to use these trails and visit these communities,” he said in a later interview.
“I'm very excited,” said Kathy Muir, vice president of Saltsburg Borough Council, who attended last week's informational meeting. “I think it's fantastic that we're going to be part of Trail Town, and that we're one of only two towns that have been chosen to be part of that.”
The Trail Town Program helps foster a connection among like-minded businesses in trail communities, and Muir remarked that being able to share ideas from a larger business community to see what the region's needs are can only benefit and support Saltsburg's economic development.
As Prince explained it, The Progress Fund acts like a bank, providing loans to small businesses, focusing mostly on the fields of tourism and agriculture.
“We look at the whole package,” providing loans to businesses that could help give a boost to a town's recreational keynotes, said Prince.
He noted the fund provided about two dozen loans to businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage, the rail-trail system that connects Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md.
The Trail Town Program is working with other trial efforts like the Rough Diamond Project — a venture advocated by actor David Conrad, a Pittsburgh native and graduate of The Kiski School in Saltsburg. The Rough Diamond Project's goal is to create an unbroken connection of trails surround the Pittsburgh Area, from the Monongahela Trail to the Allegheny Trial, connected by the Kiskiminetas River.
“We're looking at existing trails and what's missing to create the rough diamond shape,” Prince said. “And Saltsburg is a major stop on those trail systems. It's one reason why we're looking to expand there.”
The next step in incorporating Saltsburg as a Trail Town will be a public meeting planned for 6 p.m. April 29 at the Saltsburg Borough Building, 320 Point St., Saltsburg. Area businesses and community residents are invited to attend to hear what The Progress Fund can offer in the way of business assistance, marketing, economic research, community connections, real estate development and small business loans. It will also provide those in attendance with information on how they can get involved.
A later step will be a Trail Town assessment — a checklist and walk-through to identify positive aspects of the town and earmark any issues that can be seen in the community and in the region.
For example, Prince said, some communities lack the lodging that may draw people to plan overnight stays in a town.
“Through our program and other partnerships, we try to attract lodging to help market that community for lodging facilities,” he said.
Another problem may be a shortage of signage that can help direct people from the trail to the business district, or a dearth of bike racks for those who are visiting area businesses to secure their trail bikes.
The Progress Fund, through the Trail Town Program, offers loans for existing businesses to expand their physical space, technology or equipment, as well as boosting startup businesses looking to get established in the town.
The Progress Fund employs two of its own loan officers, and according to Prince, offers loan rates between 5 and 7 percent.
“We work with a lot of partnerships to get things done,” from improving a trailhead to getting a new restaurant launched, Prince said.
Muir said she looks forward to not only having the ability to attract new businesses to Saltsburg, but also to promote the businesses that have already laid a foundation there.
She said the Trail Town Program will help train business staff to be able to answer questions about the regional trail system, in order to assist visitors traveling to the community to use the trails and rivers.
The Trail Town Program launched in 2007 in an effort to further develop the Great Allegheny Passage. It has since worked with the Erie to Pittsburgh, Montour and Sheepskin trails.
This is the first year the program has reached out beyond the Great Allegheny Passage, Prince noted.
“We hope to expand to other communities, but we're starting with Ebensburg and Saltsburg as key communities,” Prince said.
Through a regional effort, the program has been trying to identify potential trail towns across 51 counties, looking at mega corridors and what communities have the potential to become a Trail Town.
The Trans-Allegheny Trail system is the mega corridor for this region. What the Trail Town Program hopes to achieve is to connect smaller community trails in the area together to create a larger system, so trail users can go from Saltsburg to Ebensburg continously.
“Saltsburg has a lot of connection to trail already,” with more than 20 miles of trail around the Saltsburg area, Prince said.
Some of the existing businesses also made Saltsburg stand out as a potential Trail Town, including Saltsburg River and Trail, which rents bikes, canoes and kayaks for use on the trails and rivers, as well as some of the small restaurants that already have a presence in the town.
“Those are what trail users are looking for when they're doing these trips, so Saltsburg has some of these businesses already,” said Prince.
Possible additions that have been incorporated in other Trail Towns include additional lodging, maybe in the form of a bed and breakfast or hostel, he noted. He said there's also a lot of interest in farm-to-table restaurants and local cafes, or an outfitter or retailer that would cater to recreational trail and river users.
“We want to see these businesses succeed,” Prince said. “If there's a business in Saltsburg and they're looking to expand or start up a new business, Saltsburg is a great location and there's potential for financing through The Progress Fund.”
The emphasis, Prince, said, is businesses that will be a draw for both the local community and regional visitors.
“The Trail Town experience, whether you're coming to ride for a day or three days — it's all about the types of services that can balance the needs of visitors with those of the community,” Prince said. “We want to work together to get things done, and our program is a new resource for the community.”
“I think it's nothing but fantastic for Saltsburg, to be able to have the help to expand businesses, to do a study to see what we need to bring to the community,” said Muir. “It will help us promote the town.”
Those looking to attend the April 29 public meeting in Saltsburg are asked to RSVP to William Prince at email@example.com or by calling 724-216-9160, ext. 318.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.