Trail town initiatives are typically led by trail and tourism organizations. When a Metropolitan Planning Organization comes along with the idea of developing a program, it approaches trail towns a bit differently. In 2021, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission hired Cycle Forward to develop a program that places as much value on local quality of life improvements as it does accommodating visiting trail users.
Dates: December 2021 – July 2022
Client: Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission for Central Ohio Greenways
Location: Central Ohio
Outdoor Assets: The Central Ohio Greenways trail network
Project Type: Plan development, Trail Towns
As a Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) is committed to transportation, sustainability, government affairs, and data and mapping projects that improve quality of life in Central Ohio. One of their projects is providing staff support to the Central Ohio Greenways (COG), a trail network spanning more than 230 miles. The COG Board, through MORPC, sought a consultant team to lead them through a trail town planning process. The COG selected a Cycle Forward and Toole Design Group to develop the Central Ohio Trail Town Framework. Together, Cycle Forward, Toole Design, MORPC staff, and regional steering committee designed a program to meet the needs of local trail communities. The project was supported with financial contributions from City of Mount Vernon, City of Sunbury, The Columbus Foundation, Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails and 1811, Downtown District, Heart of Ohio Trail Board, Kokosing Gap Trail, Ohio to Erie Trail Board, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and the Village of Centerburg.
Unlike any other trail town initiative Cycle Forward has encountered, the COG secured financial commitment from four “sponsoring communities.” While the eventual program will be open to any community located along any Central Ohio Trail of Regional Significance, the communities of Centerburg, London, Mount Vernon, and Sunbury along the 326-mile Ohio to Erie Trail invested in the planning stage of the project. Their financial support (combined with foundation funds) demonstrated an early commitment to bringing trail towns to Central Ohio. Each community designated representatives to serve on the steering committee alongside regional trail advocates. Cycle Forward and Toole Design worked closely with the committee and project staff at MORPC to ensure that that program being designed would be appropriate to the community needs and capacity. An important part of the process was researching existing conditions and attitudes toward trails, which helped to inform the program. The Cycle Forward project team interviewed community leaders, surveyed residents and businesses (receiving more than 1,000 responses), and documented existing trail-oriented infrastructure. The framework was developed after understanding these conditions. The project ended with an in-person committee meeting that celebrated the report’s completion, explored next steps, and included a group lunch and bike ride.
The COG sought a Central Ohio Trail Town Framework document that would capture existing conditions in the sponsoring communities, outline how a regional program would be structured, and identify short-term improvement projects that communities could pursue independently. The result is the comprehensive three-part Central Ohio Trail Town Framework document that provides a detailed guide for creating a regional trail town initiative.
The most tangible impact of the project was providing the COG with a detailed framework document (113 pages!) that will allow program staff to “hit the ground running” when it’s time to launch the regional initiative. Other impacts include:
- Building early buy-in among the four sponsoring communities and other steering committee members.
- Fostering a sense of community among steering committee members. Trail advocates across a 75-mile span of the Ohio to Erie Trail have expanded their professional networks.
- MORPC is now planning on an addendum to the framework to ensure that the program design can meet the unique needs of urban and suburban communities (the first four sponsoring communities are rural).
- Likely the most extensive trail town framework and one that was informed by a regional planning process. The framework offers a true 21st Century take on trail towns – one that prioritizes enhancing the quality of life of regional residents and ties to active transportation networks.