Trail Town is looking to make some big changes in Saltsburg.
An “economic development and community revitalization initiative,” according to its website, Trail Town seeks to ensure that trail communities and businesses maximize the economic potential they have to offer.
According to William Prince, a program manager for Trail Town who gave a presentation for business owners and community members at Saltsburg’s Borough building on Tuesday, the goal of the program is to encourage startup and expansion in Saltsburg.
“The (West Penn Trail) is a new opportunity to bring in new customers in a new market,” Prince said. “Another goal is to attract visitors from the trail into towns and encourage them to spend money.”
The West Penn Trail is a 17-mile rail-trail between Saltsburg and Blairsville that uses historic canal lines and railways through the Conemaugh River Valley, according to VisitSaltsburg.com. Saltsburg is also home to an entrance to the Westmoreland Heritage Trail, with four miles open between Saltsburg and Slickville.
The initiative’s goals caught the attention of Saltsburg business owners who filled the borough’s public meeting room. Some were interested in business opportunities and development, and other said they just wanted to hear about the program.
“Trail Town qualities,” Prince said, “include natural, historic qualities and a culture of hospitality.” In addition, they incorporate things such as bike racks and pedestrian infrastructure.
The program aims to bring visitors to Saltsburg and “have them keep bringing people back.”
The program starts with a Trail Town assessment, with businesses answering questions such as “Can visitors tell they’ve entered a town?” and “How would a visitor coming off the trail feel when coming into the community?” The assessment for Saltsburg is not yet scheduled.
It then creates a priority of projects for the town and for the region as a whole.
The program then offers different services based on the community’s priorities.
Through the assistance and development program, businesses can become Trail Town-certified in one of two ways: They can become certified sustainable, meaning they will recycle and reuse, sell local foods and products, reduce waste and might include historic buildings, natural lighting and green space on their properties; or they can become certified trail friendly, meaning that they will be educated on the community and its trails, bike racks and storage to be able to relay information to visitors.
Then, the program, using its many partners — from trail groups and towns to businesses and special attractions — will help market the community via social media and monthly newsletters.
Through economic research, Trail Towns are provided data and trends in the community’s trail usage and spending that provides “vital statistics for business planning and projections,” according to the organization’s website.
Next, through community connection projects, improvements to the town and trails are made, including adding bike racks and improving signage, park areas, trailheads and more. These projects are possible through grants that the program offers.
Another feature of the program is its real estate development opportunities, which offers free listings on Trail Town’s website as well as on historicproperties.com. The program also offers small business loans and a program called The Progress Fund that “provides the needed financing that enables many businesses to expand.”
Right now, the program is active in nine towns along the Great Allegheny Passage, from Pittsburgh through Maryland. This year, it will begin expanding across western Pennsylvania.
It is a goal that expansion will continue along the West Penn Trail, Prince said, and to incorporate other towns along the way.
“(Saltsburg) is an intersection of trails … there’s some good existing businesses and kind of a great opportunity to bring more in,” Prince said. “It’s a really unique town and atmosphere that could become a destination.”
Laura Hawkins, Greenway coordinator for the Allegheny Ridge Corp., said at the meeting that she’s “worked with Saltsburg for many years helping to make the connections with the other trails in the area.”
The Trail Town program, she said, could help “take Saltsburg to the next level.”
The Saltsburg community isn’t the only town showing an interest in the program. Residents and representatives from Apollo and Blairsville were also at Tuesday’s meeting in hopes that they will be able to expand the program to their communities.
“I would like to have a Trail Town assessment done for Blairsville and be a part of this program in the future,” said Carol Persichetti, of the Blairsville Community Development Association.
“The step-by-step process, all that the program can offer … it’s definitely something that Blairsville would love to take advantage of.”
Blairsville is home to the Blairsville Riverfront Trail, a segment of the Trans-Allegheny Trail. It is 1.7 miles long and has been called “the most popular trail in Indiana (County’s) Parks and Trails program,” said Linda Gwinn, also of the BCDA.
“We aspire to be a Trail Town. We have a trail. We are a town. We want to be a trail town,” she said.
Trail Town will also be doing assessments this year in McKeesport and Ebensburg.