Communities pursue Trail Town designation

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Area Tourism Council hosted a presentation by Land Information Access Association community planner Harry Burkholder to discuss the possibilities involved on branding Atlanta as a Trail Town. The focus of the presentation was to inform community members of different ways to leverage and improve the existing trail systems for community and economic development.

A grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. has been approved to allow for five pilot communities to analyze their local trails and make plans to help tourists use them. The five northern Michigan communities selected are Alpena, Atlanta, Grayling, Topinabee and Mackinaw City. These communities will serve as examples for a regional Trail Town guidebook and program for the 22-county region of northern Michigan.

The Trail Town idea was first developed in Pennsylvania and Maryland along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile multi-use trail, by the Allegheny Trail Alliance.

The Trail Town program applies a four point “Main Street Approach” which offers a complete outline for downtown revitalization and has been implemented in over 1,200 communities across the United States.

“Trail Town is about recreation and trails, but it is also about downtown,” Burkholder, AICP certified community planner II, said. “Any trail can be developed for community and economic development. A safe and well maintained trail is the centerpiece used to entice trail users into the town.”

The main street approach uses organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring to establish a Trail Town catalyst and coalition to find financial resources and implement the initiative. Public funding may be available to assist the program through grants, and other agencies that work on some of the additional aspects, such as the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources.

A relationship between the trail and the downtown area should be assessed, providing easy access for visitors using the trail to enter the central business district with minimal obstacles.

Once a complete evaluation of the community and its trails has been achieved, Atlanta can begin planning projects and programs in a master plan, which will provide the framework for future marketing, community outreach, and support to become known as a Trail Town.

The Trail Town program seeks to shed light on the abundance of outdoor recreational activities available in Michigan, while maximizing community benefits.

“The more trails that are connected, the better for everyone involved throughout northern Michigan,” Burkholder said.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.