A community can check all the right boxes as a trail town and still need help in connecting to its trails and outdoor assets. Cycle Forward worked in Connellsville, Pennsylvania to help improve its connection to the Great Allegheny Passage, foster an outdoor culture, and lead hands-on placemaking projects.
Dates: January – October 2021
Client: Fayette County Cultural Trust (returning client)
Location: Connellsville, PA
Outdoor Assets: Great Allegheny Passage, Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle State Park
Project Type: Placemaking, Trail Towns
Connellsville is a Great Allegheny Passage trail town that is uniquely positioned to attract trail users. The city is a 60-mile bike or train ride from Pittsburgh, has trail-serving businesses, and borders Ohiopyle State Park. Business names like Trailside Treats and Kickstand Kitchen pay homage to the trail, but opportunities remain in terms of achieving a widespread trail culture. Building from previous Nature-Based Placemaking recommendations by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, Cycle Forward worked with the Fayette County Cultural Trust to engage local stakeholders in activating local placemaking efforts.
Residents must feel excited about trails and outdoor recreation before visiting trail users will perceive the place as an outdoor-oriented community. A sense of nature appreciation, vibrancy, and even whimsy need to be cultivated and felt locally to make a similar impression upon visitors. For this reason, Cycle Forward and the Trust engaged a committee of residents and business owners to guide the development of a Nature-Based Placemaking Activation Plan. The plan aims to integrate a nature-based approach to community development into the Trust’s Main Street program. It contains five key strategies for capturing the attention of both residents and visiting trail users.
Once the multi-year plan was in place, Cycle Forward worked with committee members to implement portions of the plan. Cycle Forward’s approach to the project emphasized involving and inspiring local leaders to continue the effort after the consulting engagement has concluded.
The Trust tasked Cycle Forward with identifying tangible steps to activating the local outdoor economy and positioning Connellsville to better connect to its natural assets. Deliverables included the facilitation of committee meetings, plan development, and the delivery of related programs.
The most significant impact of the project was convening a group of local champions and providing an avenue for celebrating Connellsville and its outdoor assets. Specific accomplishments include:
- A town-wide vintage bike exhibit that included more than 30 bikes at 20 locations. The exhibit was intended to generate enthusiasm for cycling and to move people throughout the business district. The exhibit resulted in news coverage as well as a guided walking tour that proved to be popular among local residents.
- A season-long chalk art program called “Chalking Up Connellsville” included weekly chalk art and messages on downtown sidewalks and the trail itself. A local family generated the messages on weekend mornings. Additionally, a high school artist created longer lasting chalk installations once a month in high traffic areas. The messages celebrated trails and cycling and were a fun way of demonstrating a welcoming atmosphere.
- A postcard mailing was sent to more than 9,000 area households and businesses promoting outdoor recreation and upcoming outdoor events.
- The effort raised Connellsville’s profile as a Great Allegheny Passage trail town with both the GAP Conservancy, which manages the Great Allegheny Passage, and GO Laurel Highlands, the regional tourism promotion agency. Both became engaged partners that were eager to collaborate and share updates with their audiences.
- The newly formed committee met throughout the year, including an initial focus group session. An interactive workshop is planned for the end of the season to evaluate the success of the effort and how the group will move forward in 2022.