Pathways to Happiness, Health and Prosperity.
People often think of the function of Communications in organizations like RTC to be simply in support of its programmatic efforts – Communications serves to promote and publicize the real work of the organization, and does not, in itself, constitute that work.
In the case of RTC, our core work is Trail Development assistance – helping communities build trails through technical advice about corridor ownership, grading and paving, legal documentation and how to find funding sources.
However, a project I am working on at the moment is demonstrating that effective Communications is an immensely powerful Trail Development tool in its own right.
In the lovely town of Friendsville on the Youghiogheny River in western Maryland, the locals have become dismayed at the deteriorating condition of a rail-trail running alongside the river. Known as the Kendall Trail, this 2-mile section, though only quite short, has the tremendous potential to link with existing trail plans in the region as well as provide locals with an outlet for recreation or exercise.
But the trail has a PR problem. Most of the locals don’t know about it, and most of those that do aren’t sure whose responsibility it is. The connection hasn’t been made between “this is in my community” and “this is something my community can do.”
So I met with the local advocates and supporters over breakfast the other morning. One of the first problems we identified was that many people in the town didn’t feel connected to, or represented by, trail organizations in other parts of the county. We decided we needed a presence locals could immediately relate to. So we changed the name of the Kendall Trail Alliance to the Friendsville Trails Alliance – a name that makes clear where the organization is based and who they are about.
The next hurdle was raising local awareness. I urged them to start simple – these things take time and if you try and tell too-complicated a story right off the bat people often find it hard to work their way into the issue.
So we planned a working bee and community introduction event for later this month. A few sausages on the grill, maybe a keg of beer, and a stack of simple flyers to hand out to explain to folks what the trail is, where it goes, and how they can get involved if they’re interested. It’s a very simple first step, but very necessary in the longer game of generating and mobilizing local support. The working bee event also gives us a hook for local media.
The people of the Friendsville Trail Alliance have bigger ambitions for not only the Kendall Trail but also the broader network and their county. But winning the Communications battle in the short term means keeping the narrative simple, presenting a story that locals feel like they can connect to, and creating reachable, immediate, and modest goals.
Only when the town’s first short rail-trail is properly maintained, loved and well-used will we be able to build and mobilize local support for further trail development.
More information about this great local group at: www.facebook.com/FriendsvilleTrailsAlliance