Path mapped out to boost Saltsburg trail tourism
Saltsburg could be Pennsylvania's next great Trail Town, and officials in the community have some improvements in mind as they work toward that goal.
Borough officials learned this past spring that the Greensburg-based Progress Fund, a nonprofit community development financial institution, is interested in adding both Saltsburg and Ebensburg to its Trail Town Program. The program focuses business development efforts around a burgeoning recreational trail system.
Both communities are part of the newly dubbed Trans-Allegheny Trail System that offers hiking and biking on a collection of 13 trails stretching from Ebensburg to North Apollo. Saltsburg boasts trailheads for two segments of that system — the 15-mile West Penn Trail that leads to Blairsville and the nine-mile Westmoreland Heritage Trail that runs southwest to Delmont.
On June 12, a group of about two dozen people including local business owners, borough council members and representatives of the Trail Town program walked through Saltsburg to identify the town's positive aspects as well as areas that need to be improved to attract more visitors.
Saltsburg already has several features that make it inviting for those coming to enjoy the trails and the nearby Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas rivers. Saltsburg River & Trail offers rentals of canoes, kayaks and bicycles, and visitors can choose from several eateries as they fuel up for outdoor adventures.
But, at a follow-up assessment meeting on July 9, William Prince, Trail Town program manager, suggested several areas that Saltsburg could address to truly make it a recreation destination.
Number one on the list is signage, which Prince said can be confusing and cluttered throughout the town. Improvements could be made to on-trail signage, and trail and river access points could be more clearly marked, he said.
Trail Town staff have been talking with local trail representatives in the hope of developing a regional design for trail signage, especially at the point where the West Penn and Westmoreland Heritage paths intersect.
Ideally, Prince said, signs should let trail users know what town they're approaching, giving them the opportunity to stop and explore the community.
Parking in the town is also an issue, with council members noting the riverfront area can get crowded with vehicles during peak seasons.
In addition to the riverfront, the borough has designated parking areas at the playground on Canal Street, which is located near the trailheads, and along Route 286 at the North Park area.
Signs would be helpful at the parking spots, letting visitors know where other parking options are located if an area is full. Prince pointed out that the playground seems to have become the main site for parking, and he suggested that some thought be put into improving it.
Saltsburg Council Vice President Kathy Muir, who was present at the assessment meeting, noted the borough is applying for a $250,000 state grant to build a new playground on the site of the town's old sewage treatment plant, also on Canal Street.
A large parking lot is included in plans for a new sewage treatment facility and will be counted as a local match for the grant. Expanding that area would address parking concerns along the trails.
“That will all be paved, it will all have landscaping. That will all be taken care of at that point for the trailhead parking,” Muir said. There will likely be a new public restroom, a water fountain and bike racks in that area, she said.
Other items targeted for improvement are community bulletin boards and placement of benches. It was suggested that the Trail Town organization might help Saltsburg find solutions for removing vacant buildings that have become eyesores.
As for businesses and amenities, “Generally, the main basic services are covered here,” Prince said of the town. “You've got a little bit of everything.”
Still, more lodging and specialty retail shops are desirable, and one type of business the town could really benefit from is a bike shop.
Business signage could be improved, with awnings and by making sure wording is up-to-date.
Bathrooms, Prince noted, “are a really huge plus for Saltsburg.” He said the restroom facility at Canal Park is a prime site to place signage about the business district and upcoming events.
While Saltsburg offers some options for lodging, Prince said there is an opportunity for an in-town bed and breakfast or guest house. He also suggested looking into regional options for camping.
One thing the assessment indicated Saltsburg lacks is a defining gateway entrance that welcomes people into town. Prince said a mural or improved signage and landscaping would be elements to consider.
Prince acknowledged that Saltsburg has been looking into creating a visitors' center, but he suggested that the borough building be used as a temporary site for visitors to get information about the trails, river and nearby services and businesses.
Another way to market the town would be to partner with other nearby communities along the trail corridor, such as Blairsville or Apollo, to create town-to-town rides.
As part of the assessment, Prince cited some short-term and long-term goals Saltsburg officials could consider addressing to make the town more appealing and marketable to both visitors and residents.
Among the short-term suggestions is incorporating bike racks throughout the town. Basic improvements like landscaping and adding more definition to parking areas could also be considered, as well as developing a gateway entrance.
In the long term, Saltsburg could look into attracting a bike shop and other recreation-themed stores, in addition to adding to its lodging options.
“I think a bike shop would be great, for someone to come in and open one up here,” said Muir.
A comprehensive signage plan for the trails and businesses could also be considered in the long run, as well as improved traffic and street safety signs.
The need for improving sidewalks in town was discussed. Muir noted council has pursued several grants to make sidewalk repairs to no avail. She said council will continue to work with its grant writer, Leann Chaney, to seek funding.
Saltsburg resident Linda Maguire asked what funding options there are to help create a gateway entrance for the town.
Prince explained three grant opportunities the Trail Town program has available — one for improving exterior business signage or awnings; one for installing bike racks at businesses or in public spaces; and a “community connection” grant for improvements and enhancements along the trails.
Prince said he'd like to keep things moving ahead in Saltsburg's Trail Town process by forming an action team for people wanting to get involved. The team would meet every other month and would communicate in part through e-mail blasts.
Saltsburg businesses can get involved through the Trail Town Certified Network, in which businesses, organizations and sites can learn how to attract the trail traffic that is already in the area. The network is free, but those wanting to join would undergo an assessment, looking at both their sustainable practices — lighting and water conservation systems — and their trail-friendly assets such as bike racks, trail maps and an outdoor hose for people to clean the trail dust from their bikes. Feedback is given after the assessment on the strengths of that business and what it could work on to improve.
Network members would have the opportunity to connect with other members in towns along trail corridors and could take advantage of educational events addressing topics such as marketing and social media.
Businesses can schedule a Trail Town Certified Network assessment by contacting Prince at 724-216-9160, ext. 318.
Also down the pike will be a real estate inventory, giving the Trail Town organization an idea of what properties are for sale or for rent. With permission from the owner or agent, those properties can be listed on the Trail Town Program website for free, as well as on www.historicproperties.com.
Prince said Trail Town is planning to revamp its website later this year. The new website will better reflect the program's expansion into additional communities.
“We're still building the program and awareness” for Saltsburg, Prince said. Meanwhile, he noted other nearby communities — specifically, Blairsville and Apollo — have shown interest in the Trail Town organization.
“We hope to bring them into the program in the future,” Prince said, noting Trail Town has a limited capacity and can take on only so many communities at one time.
But, he encouraged people in towns like Blairsville, that are part of the trail corridor, to use the Trail Town program to network with other communities and people along the trails. “Things we saw in the assessment here (in Saltsburg) are things you can see in those towns, too,” Prince said. “If there's a B&B in one town and one in another town and they want to work together, this is one way they can make that connection.”
“I think this is very positive,” Muir said after the meeting. “I think anything that they can do for the community is going to be a benefit to everybody. I hope the businesses take advantage of all that they're offering, and I hope we can work together to continue the partnership with them to be more successful with the trails and with the community businesses.”
For more information about the Trail Town Program, visit http://www.trailtowns.org.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or email@example.com.