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Summit draws regional leaders

By Staff | Mar 26, 2010

Williamsport, Md., marketing consultant Michael Sparks addresses a breakout group of the inaugural Trail Towns Marketing Summit held last week in Cumberland, Md. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

CUMBERLAND, Md. – It’s a damp Monday morning here at the junction of the C&O Canal Historic National Park and the Great allegheny Passage Trail, which together stretch for over 300 miles between Washington and Pittsburgh. The preceeding days weather had been one of heavy rains, and there was concern among people up and down the banks of the Potomac River about how badly the river would flood.

This was unfortunate for a delegation of the National Park Service’s C&O Canal Trail, who, in monitoring and preventing flood damage from the rains, missed out on the opportunity to lend their voice to the inaugural Trail Town’s Marketing Summit.

Meredith Wait, president of the Shepherdstown Business Association, Cheryl Keyrouze of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center and Lois Turco, representing the Freedom’s Run festival, are among the locals who attended the event with more than 200 delegates from a diverse economic and government communities up and down the trails.

“I think it was a good time, we met a lot of folks along the Great allegheny Passage,” Turco said. “I think we learned a lot about how we can make Shepherdstown a good partner with canal towns.”

The group had assembled in a converted downtown hotel to discuss one pressing question: How can the connected communities along the trail work together to get recreational hiker-bikers off the trail, into our communities and spending money in local businesses?The answer seemed to unanimously be tied to one important medium: Digital networking and web applications.

Attendees of the inaugural Trail Towns Marketing Summit listen with rapt attention to the final speaker of the day. Participants brainstormed creative ways to market their towns to recreational users of the C&O Canal Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

The concept is an important and slightly controversial one, especially for small business owners in the small communities which dot the Potomac River from Cumberland to Washington. Before the meeting, the feeling among many members of the business community here was that there is some amount of trepidation over the potential for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter

The goal, organizers said, was to gather over 100 community and business leaders from the cities, towns and villages along the C&O Canal trail and the Great Allegheny Passage trail to brainstorm marketing strategies aimed at turning trail users into customers for local businesses. The two popular trails stretch unbroken (save for the inevitable flood damage on the C&O) between Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh.

“It’s time to go to work,” Wait said. “I came away with ideas which I’d like to take back to the business community. I’ve made some great contacts today and Shepherdstown really needs to be a part of this.”

Cathy McCollom, who oversees the Trail Towns Program, said the summit’s goal was to touch on areas of tourism marketing such as broadcast, print and internet marketing and web site creation. An architect also gave a presentation on how to position storefronts for curb appeal.

“I think it went very well, there were representatives from all up and down the trail,” McCollom said. “I saw people networking all day long.”

The Trail Towns Program is a special project of The Progress Fund, a non-profit lender to businesses in the travel and tourism industry. The Trail Town concept was developed by the Allegheny Trail Alliance in conjunction with The Progress Fund.

“The trail town program can be duplicated along the canal path,” McCollom said. “Many of the programs can be done just by volunteer efforts in the community. There are some things like signage, which needs money, need to be done along the tow path.”

She said there are plans for the group to have another meeting in the region in the near future.