Agency tries to stimulate trail use, economic impact

Natalie Reid Miller
Observer Reporter

Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency is trying to lure users to local trails, but they also want to lure them off.

The agency revealed efforts to increase Montour and Panhandle Trail use and, therefore, bring money into Washington County, after the completion of a Trail Tourism Marketing report. Through partnerships with trail councils and adjacent businesses, the agency is making a push to attract and retain trail users, and get them to spend some time – and money – in “trail towns,” particularly McDonald, Burgettstown and the Hendersonville/Southpointe area.

“We have a story to tell in Washington County,” said Chase McClain, Washington County Chamber of Commerce director of sports and recreation marketing.

On Thursday, McClain presented findings from the study and other rails-to-trails studies, which revealed that people want an authentic, heritage experience. During a media event at the McDonald Trail Station, where the Montour Trail intersects the Panhandle Trail, the agency shared efforts to boost tourism by supporting trail towns in their endeavors to provide services, goods and overnight accommodations that will draw visitors.

McClain said the marketing initiative has five goals: to increase trail awareness, get to know trail users, increase overnight stays, increase traffic at local businesses and provide users with a memorable experience.

An agency trail committee is working with the county commissioners, Montour Trail Council, McDonald Area Redevelopment Authority, Washington County Planning Commission and Department of Parks & Recreation, volunteers and business owners to better promote and market the trails.

McClain said one goal is to attract the 24 million people living within a 200-mile radius of the trails. The committee also recommended that marketing efforts be directed to current trail users, whose visits from out-of-town friends and family generate tourism dollars.

According to the tourism promotion agency, McDonald has already found some success with its designation as a Progress Fund Trail Town, which they said is the longest-running, most successful trail town revitalization program that supports municipalities in taking stock of their towns’ assets to become visitor-friendly destinations.

The committee recommended installing signs along roadways, alerting motorists to trailheads. Signs along the trails, directing users to amenities, will be installed in the next few months.

The committee wants to develop more trail events and promote established events like the Burgettstown Trail Festival – July 21 – and McDonald’s annual McSummerfest, which runs through Saturday. The report also recommended improvements to trail websites, increased social media efforts, digital advertising and strategic trail tourism partnerships, such as providing lodging and dining packages for trail users.

Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency distributed several grants Thursday, including $20,000 to Montour Trail Council, $5,500 to McDonald Area Redevelopment and $5,000 to McDonald Volunteer Fire Department for promotion of McSummerFest.

Following completion of the report, the agency submitted a bid to host the 2021 state Greenways and Trails Summit, which draws trail builders, volunteers, advocates, park and recreation professionals and trail users for three days of workshops, networking and education sessions.

Another long-term goal includes developing a “Washington, PA, to Washington, D.C.” marketing campaign by connecting with the Great Allegheny Passage trail.