Trail-based tourism topic of Sept. 2 meeting.

August 24, 2015

LUDINGTON — Trail enthusiasts, business leaders and citizens interested in the economic potential of trail-based tourism in Ludington are encouraged to participate in a public meeting on Wednesday, September 2 at 6 p.m. in city hall, 300 S. Harrison Street.

Interested parties can also participate in formal “Trail Town” and accessibility assessments of key trail amenities around the community earlier in the day, beginning at 1 p.m. Assessment participants should meet at the parking lot at the end of Ludington Avenue, adjacent to Stearns Park.

Supported in part by a service grant known as the Great Lakes Trail Towns Planning Initiative,local officials and trail advocates from Ludington are working together to determine ways to better leverage and maximize the economic potential of trail-based tourism within the community, a strategy often referred to as “Trail Towns.” Funding for the project is being provided through Michigan’s Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP), which aims to build on and expand the recommendations of the Lake Michigan Water Trail Plan completed in 2014. The planning initiative is being led by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA), a nonprofit service organization based in Traverse City, along with Access Recreation Group, LLC.

Harry Burkholder, director of planning for LIAA, said the Trail Towns service grant is designed to make communities more aware of the economic opportunities that come from trail-based tourism.

“Trails were once considered to be undesirable and unnecessary infrastructure in most communities,” Burkholder said. “People worried that trails would bring crime and unwanted activity into their neighborhoods. However, in reality the opposite happens. Trails not only increase nearby property values, they contribute to sense of place and offer new economic development potential.”

As an example, Burkholder cited a recent study by the Michigan Department of Transportation that values the total economic impact of bicycle tourism throughout Michigan at $668 million annually.

Ludington’s Trail Town service grant will bring together local officials and trail advocates to identify specific things the community could do to attract trail users. “There are many small things the community could do through better planning, design and marketing that could make Ludington a primary biking and paddling destination for the region and a must-stop for trail users,” Burkholder said.

Local officials will also be working with Michigan’s leading accessibility expert to identify opportunities to provide universal accessibility to local trails and trails amenities. Developing trailheads, paddling launches, and related infrastructure such as restrooms and parking lots with universal accessibility in mind helps to improve paddling and recreation opportunities for all ages and abilities.

“The initiative will identify specific projects that address accessibility and we anticipate these will be included in local recreation plans and therefore be eligible for grant funding,” Burkholder said.

The “Trail Town” concept was originally developed by the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of seven trail organizations along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile multiuse trail running through Pennsylvania and Maryland. The basic Trail Town concept is simple: ensure that communities along the trail are better able to maximize the economic potential of trail-based tourism. Over the last several years, as the full economic potential of linking trails, recreation, tourism and business development has become better known, the Trail Town concept has caught on. Over a dozen communities throughout in Michigan have already created formal Trail Town plans and programs.

Under the Great Lakes Trail Towns Planning Initiative, Ludington is participating along with nine other communities along the Lake Michigan coastline.

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