The Year of the Trail Community Toolkit serves as a resource to support trail events and community engagement around trails across the state of North Carolina. It includes helpful resources, background and information about the state-level Year of the Trail campaign, the history, impact, and opportunities surrounding trails in NC, and a guide to hosting Year of the Trail events in local communities around the state. The Toolkit also includes downloadable resources that may help navigate NC Year of the Trail including Year of the Trail logos and branding assets, planning tools, templates and much more. The links for each of these resources can be found at the end of each section.
You will also find the monthly theme graphic and event evaluation form at the bottom of this page.
Purpose of Year of the Trail Toolkit
The year of the Trail Community Toolkit is intended to be used by local governments, tourism representatives, trail organizations and advocates, health organizations, and community leaders interested in celebrating, advocating for, and promoting trails at the local level.
Thank you for joining in the celebration of North Carolina’s trails!
Mission, Purpose, Vision, & Values for the NC Year of the Trail
- Mission: NC Year of the Trail campaign aims to showcase and celebrate North Carolina’s trails, encouraging ongoing participation, investment, and development among locals and legislators.
- Purpose: Year of the Trail celebrates North Carolina’s vast and diverse collection of trails and encourages all of us to recognize our role as champions of these special resources.
- Vision: We envision a future in which each of the state’s 100 counties experience the proven benefits of trails and advocate for their ongoing growth and development.
- Values: Participation, Inclusivity, Stewardship, Connectivity, Collaboration
Year of the Trail Goals
- Inspire people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to try trails.
- Demonstrate the importance of trails to elected officials.
- Boost outdoor recreation tourism across the state through Year of the Trail events in all 100 counties.
- Promote safe and responsible use of trails, with the Outdoor NC Principles.
- Advance diversity and inclusion on trails across North Carolina.
- Acknowledge the role of volunteers in building and maintaining trails.
Trails are valuable to communities because the benefits they provide are readily and freely enjoyed by a diversity of identities, abilities, and backgrounds, particularly for those who’ve historically and continually faced undue and disproportionate barriers to trail access. Therefore, we strive to build a North Carolina where trails are accessible, safe, and welcoming to all residents and visitors.
NC Trails Background & History
Indigenous people have inhabited the land now known as North Carolina since the Paleoindian Period (12,000-10,000 BCE). Trails were created and used for travel, hunting and gathering of food, recreation, commerce and many other aspects of everyday life. All of our current-day connectivity stems from these trails – as people moved along rivers and ridgelines, through forests and the Lowcountry, and along the changing coastlines, trails were established. These trails turned into stagecoach routes, then railroads, and finally into the complex system of roads and interstate highways we know today.
The Great Trails State Coalition respectfully acknowledges that the land on which we live, work, and recreate is the traditional land of the indigenous people of North Carolina. We recognize that these native people have stewarded this land for generations and we pay our respects and express our gratitude to their elders, both past and present.
During Year of the Trail, we encourage communities to consider the origins of local trails and advocate for their preservation, sustainable growth, and responsible use.
- 1915 – Mount Mitchell is established as NC’s first State Park
- 1916 – NC Division of Parks and Recreation is created
- 1968 – National Trails System Act is enacted by US Congress with the Appalachian Trail as one of the first of two designated National Scenic Trails
- 1971 – North Carolina Natural & Scenic Rivers System is created by the NC General Assembly
- 1973 – The North Carolina Trails System Act and its subsequent course of action, the North Carolina Trails Program, are implemented
- 1977 – Howard Lee, then NC Secretary of Natural Resources and Community Development, made a speech recommending that North Carolina “build a state trail from the mountains to the coast, a trail leading through communities, as well as natural areas”
- 1978 – French Broad River State Trail is authorized
- 1980 – Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail is designated by the US Congress. The trail traces the 330-mile route, the majority in NC, that was used by patriot militia in 1780 during the American Revolution
- 1985 – Yadkin River State Trail is authorized
- 1993 – National Trails Day is established as the first Saturday in June, as a way to celebrate our country’s trails
- 2000 – Mountains to Sea Trail is authorized as a state trail
- 2007 – Deep River State Trail is authorized
- 2015 – Fonta Flora State Trail is authorized
- 2017 – Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail is authorized
- 2019 – Wilderness Gateway & Northern Peaks State Trails are authorized
- 2019 – Overmountain Victory Trail is authorized as a state trail
- 2021 – East Coast Greenway is authorized as a state trail
- 2021 – Roanoke River and Dan River State Trails are authorized
- 2023 – NC Celebrates Year of the Trail!
Celebrating Year of the Trail in Communities Across North Carolina
North Carolina’s 2023 Year of the Trail initiative is strengthened by each local community that joins the effort to bring awareness to and build more opportunities for hiking, biking, walking, running, riding, paddling, and horseback riding across our beautiful state.
The Great Trails State Coalition is a group of over 50 member organizations working together to advocate for trails at the state level. At the local level, it may be helpful to form a local Year of the Trail planning committee to serve as advisors and help guide what the Year of the Trail effort looks like in each community. While anyone with a passion for trails will be a great addition to a planning committee, representatives from some of the following organizations will help build a knowledgeable and far-reaching organization.
- Town, City, and/or County Government
- Tourism Development Authority or Destination Marketing Organizations
- Parks & Recreation Agencies
- Local Trail Groups
- Health & Wellness Organizations (hospitals, fitness centers, etc.)
- Community and Nonprofit Organizations
- Local School Systems & Universities
- Small Business Community, especially businesses supporting trail users
- Civic Groups (Ruritan, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.)
- Land Management Organizations & Conservancies
Once an engaged Year of the Trail planning committee has been established, each local group should set some initial high-level goals. It may help to ask committee members a few questions:
- What is the purpose of this team?
- Who is the intended audience?
- How much time can be dedicated to this effort?
- Who else should be involved in this effort and are there other organizations in the area also promoting Year of the Trail? If so, can everyone work together? Can separate efforts be maintained without duplication?
Most importantly, each local Year of the Trail planning committee will want to establish SMART goals as they approach 2023 and the Year of the Trail. SMART goals mean that goals are:
To get started, take another look at the Great Trails State Coalition’s Year of the Trail goals at the beginning of this section. These are a few examples of goals each advisory committee may want to consider. Whether one goal is chosen or many, having a clear path forward will help local committees be successful.
- Host a Year of the Trail event (you can find helpful information on this in Section Four of the Toolkit).
- Invite every elected official in your community onto a trail.
- Encourage new trail users to try out a trail.
- Raise a specific amount of money to help plan, build, repair, or improve trails in your community.
- Complete a new section of trail.
- Educate your community on how to safely and responsibly use trails.
- Build awareness of local trails and the benefits they provide.
Each local Year of the Trail Planning Committee should consider partnering with Outdoor NC and adding their voice to the statewide effort to protect North Carolina’s outdoor spaces and preserve the natural beauty of our state.
Kicking off the NC Year of the Trail!
1/1/23 Year of the Trail Kickoff: NC First Day Outdoors
Join the statewide Year of the Trail kickoff by celebrating NC First Day Outdoors and encouraging your community to spend January 1, 2023 outdoors (hopefully on a trail!). If your Year of the Trail planning committee decides to organize a formal event, such as a group hike or trail run, be sure to register it on the events page at greattrailsnc.com so others in your area can join the fun. #NCFirstDayOutdoors
**This toolkit provides information for the public about trails and events happening in North Carolina as part of the Year of the Trail. The East Coast Greenway Alliance and those involved with the development and publication of this toolkit do not assume any liability for injuries, damage, or loss to persons using this information or participating in Year of the Trail events. People using this information are responsible for their own safety and should take appropriate precautions.**
The Great Trails State Coalition recommends building upon North Carolina’s trail legacy by investing in and expanding our current trail systems. Throughout Year of the Trail, communities are encouraged to understand and assess local trails and trail infrastructure, gain a better understanding of the benefits trails provide, and brainstorm opportunities to improve and expand local trail systems. This section of the Year of the Trail Community Toolkit includes resources and information to guide this work.
Year of the Trail Anthem
Across North Carolina’s vibrant stretch of Southern soil, a system of trails unfurls into limitless opportunity. These paths are a place of refuge and recreation. They connect us to the very essence of this state. To its natural splendor. To its storied, winding history. And—with our active use and care—to its future.
North Carolina is the Great Trails State.
These paths—scenic trails, greenways, and blueways—showcase our diverse landscapes from grand mountain vistas to quiet rivers, from vibrant urban greenways to coastal forests and the rolling hills of the piedmont. These trails are ours to enjoy and to steward.
Along these trails, we lead and we follow. With kids on our shoulders, dogs trotting ahead, critters burrowing below and flying above. We march on our own and we build community.
We find new purpose, generation after generation. We laugh and sweat and reflect. We take on epic adventures. Or we might take just a moment.
We need trails. To move, to play, to discover. Because North Carolina’s trails are for all of us.
To enjoy, to sustain, and to champion.
The Great Trails State Coalition believes that each of North Carolina’s 100 counties should be able to enjoy the proven benefits of trails, including health, safety, economic development, tourism, transportation, and environment. Trails are the backbone of our state’s growing $28 billion outdoor recreation economy.
2023 NC Year of the Trail celebrates all trails—from the well-known trails that cross the state, such as the Mountains- to- Sea Trail or the Appalachian Trail, to the pathways that run through every community in North Carolina, providing connectivity, fitness, and space to be outdoors.
What Makes a Good Trail?
Trails take many forms. They may be as simple as a mowed path around a community park, a rugged hiking trail in the woods that takes you to a stunning view, a paved greenway in an urban city that helps you get to places safely, or a quiet spot where you can take a moment to breathe.
Trails are spaces for people to enjoy recreating for their physical and mental well-being, connecting with nature to escape the stress of life, or to enjoy a fun outing with family and friends. Trails provide a way to explore the diversity of landscapes and communities across our great state.
In any community, trails contribute to the overall sense of place and the quality of life for residents and potential visitors.
Different Types of Trails
- Natural Surface Trails: Trails with a surface mostly made of soil or gravel. Many of these trails are meant for hiking, trail running, horseback riding, and/or mountain biking.
- Greenways & Paved Surface Trails: The surface of these trails are paved and the trail is designed for many uses, including walking, running, transportation, and activity that involves wheels – including bikes, strollers, and assistive mobility devices.
- Blueways & Water Trails: These trails follow rivers, creeks, and lakes and users travel via canoe or kayak.
What is a good trail? The most important aspect of a good trail is that it provides the trail user with a positive experience—from the information available about the trail ahead of time (online or otherwise), to accessing the trail (finding the trail, parking, etc.), and especially, the overall experience on the trail. Of course, each person’s trail experience is different and therefore, enjoyment of any given trail is subjective to the user’s skill and ability, goals, and expectations. However, local trail managers can contribute to overall positive trail experiences for users by ensuring that their trails are designed well, maintained in good condition, accessible, and clearly marked.
Keys to a “Good Trail”:
- The trail is designed and constructed using sustainable trail design principles and is maintained well.
- Information is readily available online, including intended uses.
- Instructions on how and where to access the trail are clear.
- Wayfinding on the trail is easy to identify.
- Appropriate trailhead amenities are provided.
- Trail visitors can easily find information on what else they can do in the community before or after their trail experience as a way to support local businesses.
A quality trail experience will have the following aspects in common:
- Appropriate to particular place and setting
- Environmentally and socially sustainable
- Economically responsible (taking into account long-term costs associated with maintenance and administration)
- Outcomes focused (able to provide the targeted experience and benefits for the identified trail user)
**Guidelines for a Quality Trail Experience, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and IMBA
Benefits of Trails
Trails provide many benefits to communities and people across our state.
- Make communities better places to live by preserving and creating free and open spaces for recreation.
- Provide new opportunities for outdoor recreation and non-motorized transportation.
- Serve a diverse population of a community that may otherwise have limited opportunities to access natural areas due to financial or transportation constraints.
- Provide a dedicated space for physical activities, such as walking, hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and horseback riding.
- Increased physical activity improves physical and mental health and an individual’s sense of well-being.
- Free to users, trails are an inexpensive and safe avenue for regular exercise.
- Enhance the ability of a community to attract and retain business and residents; this is why trails are considered a quality of life amenity.
- Benefit businesses located nearby as trail users spend money on equipment, food, lodging, and entertainment.
- Proximity to trails and greenways can increase property values for homeowners, attract buyers, and make property easier to sell.
- Provide neighborhood and community connections.
- Are an integral part of a multi-modal transportation system.
- Facilitate and contribute to positive health and environmental outcomes as active transportation networks.
- Preserve natural areas, protect habitats, and provide wildlife corridors.
- Using human powered forms of transportation improves water and air quality.
- Serve as hands-on environmental classrooms.
**Benefits of Parks & Greenways, National Park Service, Department of the Interior Rivers, Trails, & Conservation Assistance Program
Barriers to Diversity on the Trail
Trails should be an inclusive space, yet there are both historical and contemporary issues that impede equitable access to trails and the benefits they provide.
Individual communities are encouraged to recognize the disparities that exist and work towards equitable trail development and access for everyone. One place to start is to invite diverse voices and listen to input and guidance. It is important to welcome and involve all stakeholders – with a focus on those that have been traditionally underserved, acknowledging particularly generational fears of the outdoors.
For more information on barriers to trail use, Rails to Trails Conservancy has done extensive work in regards to equity and inclusion on trails. Read more about this work on this webpage.
**Rails to Trails Conservancy, Equitable and Inclusive Trails
Conducting a Trail Asset Analysis
A good place to start evaluating your local trail resources is to conduct a Trail Asset Analysis. Put simply, this is the process of evaluating each existing trail and recording its status and physical characteristics. Where appropriate, engage a diverse group of trail users to establish a broad assessment of local trail assets.
Note: All Trail Asset Analyses should be done with the permission of or by working with the appropriate land managers. Please don’t undertake this project without their knowledge, permission, and guidance.
There is a Trail Asset Analysis Worksheet available in the Downloadable Resources for this section. A Trail Asset Analysis includes the following steps:
Step One: Take inventory of all public trails in the community.
- Where are they located?
- How do you access them?
- Are there barriers to accessing any trails?
- What access points do they connect?
Step Two: Define the experience that each trail offers the typical user.
- What is the intended use?
- What is the level of difficulty for the user?
- How does the physical environment impact the user experience?
Step Three: What characteristics define that experience? Record some details about the following:
- What is the surface of the trail?
- What is the trail width? Is it consistent or does it vary widely?
- What is the corridor width?
- What is the average and max grade of the trail?
- What points of interest would a user encounter along the trail?
- What are the areas of concern along the trail?
- Ditched out sections
- Standing water or mud puddles
- Rooty or overgrown sections
Volunteering on Trails
Many trail managers and organizations rely on volunteers to help with all kinds of trail related activities, including trail building and maintenance, clean ups, guides, and as ambassadors at special events. This is a great way to build community and get to know your neighbors and other trail advocates.
When discussing how to encourage volunteerism on the trail, there is one cardinal rule: feed your volunteers! Food, drink, and other incentives will always help attract volunteers to a trails project and will help demonstrate how grateful the organizer is to each volunteer that donates their most precious commodity: their time!
Volunteers aren’t just working while they’re on the job – they’re learning. To the best of your ability, a volunteer workday should be used as an educational opportunity. Volunteers should be taught why they are doing what they are doing, what the best practices are, and why the work being done is important.
Volunteer efforts should be coordinated with the land manager for the trail or with established trail groups. Clear communication will protect volunteer safety, maintain the integrity of delicate ecological spaces, and ensure that all trail work is being done correctly and with lasting positive impact.
If a local community trails group is looking for a spur- of- the- moment volunteer project or if an individual wants to help, the easiest way to volunteer on the trail is to pick up trash. Most of the time, this can be done with no coordination or advance notification. Volunteers can also move branches and debris from the trail, and provide valuable feedback on trail conditions to land managers after they’ve hiked, paddled, or ridden the trail.
As you and your Year of the Trail planning committee talk about trails in your community, it will be helpful to have common language and messaging that will reach different trail users. The resources in this section of the Year of the Trail Community Toolkit will specifically offer guidance to new hikers, bikers, runners, paddlers, and riders who are just beginning to be involved with trails.
New to Trails?
One of the best things about North Carolina’s trails is that they are available to all, free (or low cost), and offer a diverse range of experiences for all skill levels and abilities. The Great Trails State Coalition believes North Carolina is the Great Trails State and that there is a trail for every person, both residents and visitors alike.
For those new to trails, Year of the Trail is the perfect time to experience one of North Carolina’s great resources . The Year of the Trail website is a great place to begin your trails experience. Find a trail near you, search for a group outing and connect with others new to the trail, and view informative videos and blogs that show new trail users what it takes to get out on the trail.
As part of a local Year of the Trail planning committee, consider your audience as you brainstorm possible events to celebrate the Year of the Trail. The following events might be just the thing to bring new users out onto the trail:
- Introduction to [local trail]: Plan a guided experience on a local trail. Make sure that the trail/trail segment you choose is an entry-level experience for an average user; meaning that it is easy to find the trailhead and park, the trail is not physically challenging, and that any necessary special equipment is provided. For an average user, one of the easiest and most accessible trail experiences is walking on a paved greenway or a short hike on a well maintained, natural surface trail. This requires little equipment (outside of a pair of good shoes) and can be adapted to most fitness levels.
- Kayaking 101 (or Mountain Biking 101, Trail Riding 101, Hiking 101, etc.): Partner with a local expert to provide new trail users with the basic knowledge of equipment needed, terminology, and guidelines for getting started.
- Hike with a Buddy (or bike, paddle, ride, etc.): Offer experienced volunteers as trail buddies! New trail users can set up a time to meet their trail buddy and try out a trail. Ideally, these excursions will occur between individuals who already know one another before hitting the trail or are in a small-group format (rather than one-on-one). Use caution when planning these events and advise all participants to meet in a public place, notify others of their whereabouts, and observe general safety guidelines during their outing.
How to Find a Trail?
North Carolina is home to so many incredible trails that can be difficult to find a trail that provides the experience you’re looking for. Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing a trail:
- Level of Intensity and/or physical fitness requirements
- Distance and/or time requirements
- Desired terrain, viewpoints, or points of interest
Once you’ve identified what kind of trail you’re looking for, there are endless resources available to help you find trails, both local to your area and across North Carolina.
- Year of the Trail ‘Find a Trail’ page
- Trail Forks
- Trail Run Project
- Hiking Project
- MTB Project
- Google search for “trails near me” or “trails in [your location]”
- Social media groups & pages dedicated to exploring trails in your location
- Online public resources:
- County/Municipality Parks & Recreation Departments
- State Trails
- Visit NC
- State Parks
- Your local bookseller. Check with your favorite local bookstore (or search an online retailer) for books about trails in North Carolina.
- Ask a friend or family member who loves trails
- Stop into a local outfitter and ask for suggestions
How to Set Folks Up For Positive and Safe Trails Experiences
Even the most avid trail users have been caught unprepared on the trail! The following tips will help new trail users feel prepared and safe on the trail, which will lead to a better overall experience and encourage them to continue to explore NC trails.
Before you go:
- Choose an appropriate trail based on your fitness level and time availability.
- Check the weather.
- Eat well and hydrate before you leave for the trail (and bring lots of water and snacks with you).
- Find a hiking buddy! Hopefully you can find an experienced trail user willing to share tips and gear. If you must hit the trail solo, choose a popular route and make sure someone knows your plans and when you’ll return.
- If your trail buddy has four legs, be sure to keep them on a 6’ leash, clean up after them, and bring them water and treats.
- Let someone know where you’re going, who you’re going with, and when you’ll return.
- Gear up! Choose the appropriate clothing, footwear, food & water, and other necessary gear to keep you safe and happy on the trail (take a look at this Trail Day Planning Checklist).
- Be sure to take a picture of the trail map with your cell phone if you don’t have a printed trail map.
- Pay close attention to the weather. It can change quickly, and you need to be prepared.
Families on the Trail
Sharing the outdoors with children is an incredible experience – but it can also be overwhelming! At the end of the day, it isn’t about how many miles you covered, but about a fun experience for everyone. In addition to the tips listed above, the following tips may help keep everyone happy and safe on the trail:
- Start talking about your trail excursion in advance so everyone is excited about the trip. Discuss the ground rules, like staying on the trail, and Leave No Trace principles.
- Pick a trail that is feasible and appropriate for the age of the children. Trails with streams are particularly interesting for children.
- Give each child a whistle to carry and teach them how and when to use it.
- Dress everyone in bright, easy to see colors in case you get separated.
- Pack lots of trail snacks – including some special treats to use as an incentive.
- Play games on the trail: I Spy, Twenty Questions, Alphabet Game, and Common Quality.
Inviting Someone New to Trails to Join You
One of the best ways to set a new trail user up for success is to invite them to join you on your next hike (or paddle, ride, bike trip, etc.). Take responsibility for planning the trip, but ask for their preferences and input along the way. If special equipment is needed, loan it to them or help them find what they need.
Whether new to trails or an experienced trail user, everyone has a responsibility to respect the trail and other trail users they meet along the way. A general knowledge of basic trail etiquette will go a long way towards making sure everyone has a great trail experience and promoting stewardship of the trail.
- Leave No Trace, with the Outdoor NC principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Stick to trails and overnight right
- Trash your trash
- Leave it as you found it
- Be careful with fire
- Keep wildlife wild
- Be considerate of others and share the outdoors
- Know your right-of-way:
- Uphill hikers (walkers, bikers, runners, etc.) have the right-of-way.
- Bicyclists should yield to hikers and equestrians.
- Hikers and trail runners should yield to equestrians.
- Non-motorized boats (kayaks and canoes) have the right-of-way over motor-powered boats. However, kayaks and canoes should yield right-of-way to large, slow vessels such as barges and sailboats.
- Check signs and trail information for specific trail right-of-way guidelines.
- Make yourself known to other trail users, especially if you are approaching from behind. Calling out “passing on your left/right” will help prevent collisions or startling others. Horses, especially, will benefit if you call out a greeting.
- If you’re listening to music or taking a phone call, use headphones and speak in a low voice. But if you are wearing headphones, stay alert to those who may be approaching from behind and wildlife that is nearby. Don’t disturb others’ peace and quiet or disturb nearby wildlife with audible sound.
- Pay attention to safety regulations for yourself and others in your group.
- Respect trail and road closures. Ask the land manager if you’re unsure.
One of the goals for Year of the Trail is for at least one trail event to be hosted in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Year of the Trail celebrations can be integrated into existing community events, or they can be special events. Year of the Trail events can be of all types and sizes, and your committee can plan more than one!
When it comes to choosing what event to plan during NC’s Year of the Trail, the sky’s the limit! The best events will be specific to the local community and should be achievable given your budget, timeline, and volunteers available. Don’t underestimate simple events, such as guided walks/hikes, group outings, trash cleanups, and nature viewing, as they can effectively build excitement and create local ownership towards trails. Pull your Year of the Trail planning committee together and start brainstorming! Here are some ideas to consider:
- Guided trail outing (walk, hike, ride or paddle)
- Ribbon cutting on a new trail
- Fundraising event to raise money to build, repair, maintain, and expand local trails
- Volunteer recognition
- Educational events
- Trails advocacy and community building
Once an event is planned, please register it on the Year of the Trail events calendar. This helps interested residents, visitors and trails enthusiasts in the area (and across the state) find and attend events, connect with others, and learn more about advocating for trails in NC. Communities holding events are advised to check with the land manager to see if a signed waiver for participants is required for that particular location/event.
Here are some more ideas for events to help showcase, promote, and advocate for trails in your community:
1. Celebrate Trail Holidays
There are many holidays relative to trails that can be celebrated in creative, fun, and impactful ways! Some are popular holidays (like Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving) and some are more obscure (like National Trails Day and National Public Lands Day) For a full list, check out the quarterly social media calendars in the downloadable resources of Section Five.
Some holidays to keep in mind, with potential event suggestions:
- January 1, 2023: Year of the Trail Kickoff: NC First Day Outdoors!
Event Suggestion: Organize a group outing on a local trail. Use this kickoff event to spread the word about Year of the Trail and identify trails enthusiasts in your community that might want to join your local Year of the Trail planning committee.
Potential Partner: Partner with a local coffee shop to gather before or after the event for a warm drink and a chance to discuss what Year of the Trail could look like for your community. #NCFirstDayOutdoors
- January 16, 2023: Martin Luther King, Jr Day & National Day of Service
Event Suggestion: Host a volunteer cleanup event at a local trail. Work with a land manager or local trail organization to clean up a section of trail that needs some attention.
Potential Partner: Team up with local businesses or individual donors and offer prizes for the most bags of trash picked up, the most unique piece of trash found, the biggest piece of trash, etc.
- February 14th, 2023: Valentine’s Day
Event: Host a Trails Gala to raise money for local trails projects! Dinner and dancing are always a fun way to celebrate this sweetheart’s holiday. Make it fun by suggesting a dress code of hiking boots or other trail apparel and give an award for best dressed.
Potential Partners: Ask local businesses to contribute to a silent auction, with all proceeds benefiting local trails. Contact businesses with trails enthusiasts among their clientele to sponsor the event and help offset costs.
- March 20, 2023: First Day of Spring
Event: Spring Ephemerals Nature Series
Join a naturalist to hike or paddle a local trail showcasing spring ephemeral wildflowers in bloom. This is a perfect opportunity to offer nature photography classes.
Potential Partners: Reach out to a local land trust, Audubon or other environmental organizations, state parks, nature centers or botanical gardens that may have naturalists available to lead nature experiences on the trail. Local photographers may be interested in leading a nature photography class.
- April, 2023 (Month-long): National Volunteer Month
Event: Celebrate outstanding local volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that community trails are maintained, staffed, and accessible to all. There are tons of ways to recognize volunteers for their hard work: a dinner in their honor, a naming ceremony for a trail section or facility, or even a thank-you note and a gift certificate to a local coffee shop. This can also be a great time to recruit new volunteers to learn about local trail opportunities in your community.
Potential Partners: Think outside the box! Many local businesses or organizations would be willing to help thank volunteers and donate financially or in-kind to assist with the effort.
- May 14, 2023: Mother’s Day Weekend
Event: Get Mom on a Trail! Host an event for families to get outside and spend time with their mom (or a mother figure that’s special to them). Showcase family-friendly trails in the area and educate families on how to spend a fun and safe day on the trail.
Potential Partner: Local nonprofits working with families may be a good partner. They may be able to reach families that are new to trails or from under-served populations and introduce them to the benefits of trails.
- June 3, 2023: National Trails Day
In 1993, the first Saturday in June was designated as a day to celebrate America’s trails and their use. This holiday is the perfect time to showcase your local trails. Organize group hikes, paddles, and rides. Volunteer for trail cleanup & maintenance projects. Incorporate something fun like a scavenger hunt or a relay race to bring attention to the event.
Potential Partners: Partner with businesses across your community for a widespread cash register round-up for trails. Choose a project with an attainable fundraising goal and publicize what the funds will be used for. Invite local media to showcase your event as a celebration of National Trails Day.
Wednesday, June 21 – Summer Solstice
Celebrate the longest day of the year with a hike, walk, bike, ride or paddle on your favorite local trail. Plan a ‘Golden Hour’ picnic and encourage participants to join in a community meal at a scenic overlook or popular picnic area.
Potential Partners: If the picnic spot is accessible, local food trucks would be the perfect partner! Ask them to donate a percentage of their profits back to local trail efforts.
- July 4, 2023: Independence Day
Event: Hike, bike, or ride a section of the Overmountain Victory National Historic and State Trail (OVNHT) and follow in the historic footsteps of the Overmountain Men, patriots who helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. The OVNHT is part of the US National Trails System and a North Carolina State Trail, with various trailheads in Western NC. If this trail is not in your part of the state, consider offering a hike/walk at a national historical monument or area of interest in your community.
Potential Partners: The Overmountain Victory Trail Association has lots of resources to help tell the story of the Overmountain men and their historic march. If food will be served, partner with local grocery stores or civic groups to assist with food and beverages.
- August 30th, 2023: Blue Moon & Supermoon (second full moon in a month)
Event: Organize a full moon group paddle in the light of the Blue Moon. There’s nothing better than floating down a calm river trail in the soft light of a full moon. This particular full moon is considered a ‘supermoon’, so there will be plenty of light. Use caution though, night paddles should only be done in well-supervised groups on calm rivers (no whitewater!). End the evening with a bonfire and ice cream social!
Possible Partners: Consider partnering with a local outfitter so participants can rent boats if needed. A local ice-cream shop might donate ice cream and toppings.
- October 1, 2023: Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day
Event: Take a kid mountain biking! This could be a group ride or an ongoing supported event at a kid-friendly mountain bike trail, with bikes and helmets available for kids to try out. Local experts could provide safety tips and help with instruction.
Potential Partners: Local youth groups and nonprofits would be great partners to help spread word about this event. Consider teaming up with local bike shops and outdoor recreation retailers to provide bikes to ‘try out’ on the trail.
- November 23, 2023: Thanksgiving
Event: Host a Turkeys on the Trail race and fun run. Everyone could use a few extra steps before the big meal! Find a local trail and designate a 5k, one-mile fun run, or other specific distance. Be sure not to compete with other Thanksgiving Day races already established in the community.
Potential Partners: This event is perfect for sponsorship. Ask local businesses for donations to offset the cost of the race or prizes for race winners in exchange for logo placement on the race t-shirt, at the event, and in swag bags.
- December, 2023 (Month-long): Winter and Holiday Season
Event: Jingle Bell Trail Ride. Encourage local equestrians to gather for a group trail ride in the crisp weather. Provide jingle bells for riders to attach to their tack, which will lend a sweet holiday soundtrack to the ride.
Potential Partners: Whichever partner is chosen, be sure to plan early! The holidays are busy and last-minute requests are hard to accommodate this time of year.
2. Guided Trails Experiences (hikes, walks, rides, paddles, etc)
Guided outings are especially helpful for new trail users. Having an experienced trail guide helps everyone feel safe and prepared for the experience and sets everyone up for successful future solo trips on the trail.
For more experienced trail users, guided trail outings offer the chance to learn something new about the trail, try out a section of trail that’s new to them, build community & enjoy a social outing, or use the trail in a new way (horseback riding or mountain biking for seasoned hikers, for example).
Guided trails experiences can be offered for free or for a nominal charge. They can be a single event or a recurring series. The same person can lead all of the hikes or there can be a different leader each time. Because these events are so customizable and offer ongoing opportunities for education and community building, they could be a popular event for your Year of the Trail planning committee.
3. Trail Cleanups
Working in conjunction with land managers and existing trails groups, consider a Trail Cleanup! Gather volunteers to tackle a specified trail or trail segment to pick up trash, clear debris, or assist with trail maintenance and repair (Note: trail maintenance and repair should always be done in partnership with land management).
This event could even be virtual: challenge individuals to clean up a local trail and post their results on social media with an event-specific hashtag.
4. Monthly Trail Themes
The Great Trails State Coalition has identified monthly trail themes that will be a focus of outreach and social media content during 2023. These themes are a great opportunity to hold an event that directly ties into the Year of the Trail marketing campaign.
- January: New Year, New Trails
- February: Make a Date with a Trail
- March: Spring into Action
- April: Celebrate NC Trails
- May: Explore NC Trails
- June: Out(doors) and About this Summer
- July: Celebrate NC Parks: Local, State, and National
- August: Wellness & Trails
- September: Achieve a Trail Goal
- October: Trail Innovators: Past & Present
- November: Show Gratitude for NC Trails
- December: Year in Review & Future Aspirations
5. Turn Existing Events into Year of the Trail Events
If regular group trail excursions already exist in your local community, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel! List all trails events on the Year of the Trail events calendar and join the 2023 Year of the Trail effort. Any events that feature trails or shine the light on benefits of trails should be listed on the calendar. Please use logos and branding for NC Year of the Trail in your communications. These logos are available to download here and can easily be added to existing events.
6. Envisioning the Future of Trails in Your Community
NC 2023 Year of the Trail is as much about the future of trails as it is about current trails. Encourage your community to dream big and brainstorm about possibilities for trails locally.
Consider an event that asks for the local community’s help with a current trails inventory, and get input on how to improve trails locally. Perhaps there is no paddling access, even though a river runs through the area. Maybe hiking trails exist, but there are no mountain biking trails. Are equestrians and hikers peacefully coexisting or should there be additional wayfinding and regulation of trails so everyone’s safety is ensured?
Materials & Supplies for Events
Depending on the type of event chosen, necessary materials and supplies will vary. This toolkit includes downloadable resources that may be helpful for adding some fun Year of the Trail details to your event, including logos for t-shirt designs, informational resources such as a Year of the Trail brochure and Leave No Trace principles, or even county-specific sticker designs. You can access all of these in the Downloadable Resources located at the bottom of each Section of the toolkit.
Local Year of the Trail planning committees can also order gear to wear at their events, to raffle off, or include in a give-away. All kinds of apparel and gear are available to purchase here.
When it comes to event planning, Google is your friend! Don’t reinvent the wheel – search terms like “Group Hike Materials Needed” or “Trail Cleanup Supplies List.”
Funding Your Event
One of the first things you and your Year of the Trail planning committee should establish during the event planning process is a working budget. It will be invaluable to find a financially-minded person to be in charge of the budget and oversee all expenses and income (both planned and actual). The following questions are a good starting point as you begin to build your budget:
- How big will your event be? How many participants do you expect?
- What is the date of the event?
- If you need food and beverages, what kind will you be serving?
- What kind of signage and decorations will you need?
- How will you promote your event and what costs are associated with that?
- Estimate ‘other’ event costs (audio/visual, permits, staff, vendors, rentals, etc).
Once you have an idea of what your event will cost, your Year of the Trail planning committee can begin to find sponsors and partners to offset the cost of the event and/or contribute towards your fundraising goals. It’s helpful to determine exactly what you would like to ask for (e.g. monetary donations, raffle or auction items, knowledge, skills, or services). Many organizations find it helpful to create ‘levels’ of sponsorship to clarify the donation options for potential sponsors.
It will be most effective for a member of your Year of the Trail planning committee to ask someone that they know for a donation. Begin by making a list of potential sponsors and then ask your planning committee to go through the list, identify anyone they know, and sign up to ask them for a donation. Divide the remainder of the list evenly between event volunteers. Don’t forget to set a deadline for your planning committee to make their requests and report back on their progress.
These types of businesses are good additions to a fundraising request list:
- Locally-owned retailers
- Especially those that focus on outdoor recreation
- Large chain or big box stores
- These stores will have a process for requests. Start early, as they may take a while to get back to you!
- Local professional services
- Healthcare or medical providers
- Restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops
- Concert venues, theaters, and playhouses
Gift Certificates are always popular items for raffles and auctions. Consider asking for gift certificates for things people already spend money on: grocery stores, oil changes, tax preparation, legal document preparation, dental cleanings, etc.
If a large-ticket item is donated (like a kayak, a vacation, or a mountain bike), a raffle might maximize its fundraising potential. Sell a limited number of tickets for a higher dollar amount.
Creative Donation Opportunities
If fundraising is the primary goal of your Year of the Trail planning committee, there are so many opportunities to raise money outside of a traditional event: in-person, virtually, or ongoing fundraising. Consider some of the following ideas as you finalize your fundraising plans for the Year of the Trail:
- Crowdfunding or Social Media Appeal: This is a great way to raise a relatively small, defined amount of money for a specific project, i.e.- raise $500 to take a group of middle-school students kayaking.
- Miles of Trail Challenge: Ask participants to donate for each mile they hike, run, walk, paddle, bike, and ride. Miles can be tracked via smartphone (Strava is a good app for this). Additionally, you could also ask participants to pay a registration fee and receive recognition for their miles on the trail, e.g. “hike 25 miles and receive a patch.”
- Cash Register Roundup: Partner with local businesses to ask customers to round-up their purchase price to the nearest dollar in support of local trails. Make sure to define the length of time for the round-up (one day, week, month).
- Photography Contest: Host a photography contest for images of local trails throughout the year. Participants can vote for their favorite photos online or in-person at a Year of the Trail photography show. Raise funds by selling a calendar or other merchandise featuring the winning photographs.
- Trail Partner Fundraising: Approach local outfitters who offer guided trail experiences to offer a Year of the Trail experience, with a portion of the proceeds being donated back to your group. Your Year of the Trail planning committee can help market and promote their business and the Year of the Trail experience.
Volunteers are the heart and soul of many trails organizations, performing vital maintenance and upkeep, leading guided experiences, and assisting with administrative tasks. NC Year of the Trail is the perfect opportunity to recognize and celebrate their efforts by hosting a volunteer appreciation event and/or providing public acknowledgment of their contributions.
Whether your Year of the Trail planning committee chooses to recognize the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ or celebrates all of the volunteers that have impacted local trails, make sure that the event is personal and impactful towards the individual(s) being recognized (For example, don’t ask someone who hates public speaking to make a speech.) Here are a few ways to recognize your volunteers:
- Present them with a certificate or plaque acknowledging their contribution
- Name a section of trail or trail facility after them (this should only be done by permission of the land management organization).
- Host a dinner in their honor.
- Surprise volunteers with a small gift or some tasty treats delivered during a volunteer shift.
- Ask local businesses to donate coupons, gift certificates, and small items for a volunteer appreciation gift basket.
- Purchase Year of the Trail apparel and gear for all of your volunteers to wear.
- Plant a native tree or other plant along the trail in their honor (this should only be done by permission of the land management organization).
- Share stories about volunteers with your local media and share on your social media platforms.
Year of the Trail also hopes to inspire new trail volunteers to get involved. Our trails depend on volunteer help!
How to Promote Your Event
The absolute best way to promote your event is via your Year of the Trail planning committee and other local connections. Word of mouth has more impact than many other forms of promotion! Ask your planning committee to use their various connections and spread the word in as personal a manner as possible: send emails and newsletters, invite friends on social media, and talk the event up in person.
Consistency is the most important piece of the event promotion puzzle. Make sure the event details match in every form of communication by providing the details in writing to those helping with promotion. Make sure that information about the event is constantly being shared through various platforms. Don’t start too early and don’t wait until the last minute. Depending on the size of the event, anywhere from six weeks to three weeks prior to the event is a good window to begin promotions. Make a written promotions plan for the event, working backwards from the event date and using the following list as a starting point:
- If your Year of the Trail planning committee has access to a website and an email list, start there! List the event on your website with a brief description and a call to action (purchase tickets, sign up, add to your calendar, etc.). Send an email blast and post an event announcement on social media, with links pointing back to the website.
- Make a social media plan! Decide how often to post about the event on social media, what to post, who will post it, and who will help amplify the post (like, share, comment, etc.). Planning out your content in advance will help ensure that posts are made on schedule and share all of the information you want your audience to know.
- Connect with local press: newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV. Send them a press release about the event and continue to communicate with them throughout the planning process. Offer to write articles, be available for interviews in an article or on-air, and invite a representative to attend the event as a guest of your Year of the Trail planning committee.
- Contact local organizations whose mission lines up with yours and ask them to help you promote the event. Area nonprofits, trails organizations, parks, and other organizations will have large networks for you to tap into.
- Connect with the statewide Year of the Trail effort, publicize your event on the Year of the Trail website, tag @greattrailsnc in your social media, and reach out to other area organizations who have led successful fundraising efforts and/or events for advice and tips.
- Use the downloadable resources provided to print posters, flyers, banners & flags for your event.
How to Measure Success
The Great Trails State Coalition has created an evaluation process for NC Year of the Trail, to document the state-wide level of participation and to demonstrate to our elected leaders the impact trails have on communities across the state. This process includes collecting data about your program/event and from program/event participants. We are interested in collecting information such as:
- Number and demographics of attendees
- Attendee satisfaction
- Cost of the program and amount of money raised
- Number of donors, attendees, trail users, volunteers, etc.
- Social media and campaign metrics
- Miles of trail hiked (or paddled, ridden, biked, etc.)
- What are the typical trail use behaviors of participants?
- Do participants intend to return here and/or other visit other trails?
To support this evaluation process, the Coalition is providing a list of questions that all program evaluations need to include, as well as additional questions that you can choose from, as all programs/events will not be the same.
You can access the guide by downloading it here.
Previous sections of the Year of the Trail Community Toolkit shared information about the benefits of trails (take another look at Section Two!), as well as strategies to create cohesive Year of the Trail messaging for communities across the state. This section pulls this information together to help you better engage your community through communication and advocacy.
Ways to Engage Your Local Community
This list includes some suggested ways to engage your local community to learn more about trails and to become stronger trail advocates. These are suggestions; there are other ways to achieve these goals too!
- Communicate the benefits of trails (recreation, health, economic, transportation, environmental), specifically the benefits that reflect local situations. Use local data, local stories, etc. How have your trails benefited your community?
- ID & engage partners: Partners may include members of your Year of the Trail Planning Team plus others.
- Draft your local message about the benefits of trails in your community; work with your partners to share your messages!
- Celebrate any trail openings or ribbon cuttings during the year with media coverage (these are great opportunities for Year of the Trail events).
- Collect & share local trail stories.
- Make presentations to community or civic groups.
- Make presentations to elected leaders (get on the agenda for meetings).
- Ask your local board to adopt a proclamation for Year of the Trail.
- Host Lunch & Learns: this is an easy and convenient way to share information.
- Pitch trail benefit stories to your local media channels, including radio, print and TV.
- Use your social media channels and newsletters to share this information.
- Invite elected leaders, community members and visitors to use your trails.
- Use the results from the Trail Asset Tool in Section Two to help you understand where your trail assets are located.
- Communicate how and where to access trails.
- Incorporate monthly Year of the Trail themes and holidays into your regular programming.
- Host a local photo/video contest.
- Engage the small business community.
- Educate small businesses that frequently interact with the public about nearby trails and encourage them to share that information with their customers.
- Encourage local outdoor retailers to carry guidebooks, trail maps, and other resources for trail education.
- Support local businesses! Purchase gear, trail snacks, and clothing from small businesses in your community, and engage business owners in regular conversations about ongoing trail efforts so they stay up-to-date.
Welcoming Everyone onto the Trail
One of the goals of NC Year of the Trail is to advance diversity and inclusion on trails across North Carolina. At the local level, Year of the Trail planning committees can work to welcome diverse populations onto the trail and invite new trail users to experience all the benefits that trails provide.
- Work with local nonprofit and community groups to host group trail experiences for their members. New and inexperienced trail users may feel more comfortable participating in a group setting.
- Include under-represented populations (those that you want to invite into the trails space) in the planning and promotion of Year of the Trail events.
- Invite new trail users from diverse groups to hosted trail events to promote a welcoming atmosphere on local trails.
- Share diverse perspectives, stories, and images in all communications.
- Work with trail maintenance organizations and land managers to improve physical barriers to access that may prevent trail use, such as lack of parking, unmarked trailheads, and poorly maintained trails.
How to Build a Local Year of the Trail Communications Strategy
While there are many options for a local Year of the Trail communications strategy, the best option will be an achievable one. Be as proactive and detailed as possible when building your local Year of the Trail planning committee’s communications strategy, as that will lessen the last-minute workload and ensure that all of the necessary information is clearly communicated to your community.
If your local Year of the Trail planning committee decides to build a communications calendar, identifying the following items will help streamline the process:
- Who is responsible for each line item?
- Who is the intended audience and what is the best way to reach them?
- What content would we like to share?
- Flag relevant images, copy, and shareable content for quick access.
- What individuals or community partners will help amplify this message?
- When should we share content? How often? What platform?
Suggested Communications Channels & How to Connect to Great Trails State Marketing
The Great Trails State Coalition (GTSC) has put together a robust Year of the Trail communications strategy including a website, social media, blogs and monthly newsletters. Local Year of the Trail planning committees are encouraged to connect with GTSC and share content within their community. GTSC content can be found in the following places:
- NC Year of the Trail website with an event calendar, blogs, and trail finding resources
- Shareable content on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube accounts at @greattrailsnc
- Monthly newsletters distributed by email with ways to connect with Year of the Trail, updates and stories from across the state
Don’t forget to tag @greattrailsnc in social media posts and use hashtags to help your content be discovered and shared throughout North Carolina. By connecting with statewide social media networks, you can help your community’s trails shine and attract more visitors!
Additionally, GTSC has put together a series of social media quarterly content calendars to help local Year of the Trail planning committees engage their communities. These calendars are full of content suggestions, relevant holidays, and trails challenges. Please use this information to help with local communications and check back regularly for new calendars.
Encourage Elected Leaders to Connect with Trails
Community funding decisions are made by local elected officials. Local elected and appointed officials may not realize the benefits of trails to their community. The Great Trails State Coalition has made resources available to assist local Year of the Trail planning committees with this effort. Here are a few simple ways your team can help inform leaders and advocate for local trails:
- Share information about the impact of trails and their benefits to the community including stories of local impact, such as community culture and pride that relates to trails, local businesses supported by trail users, numbers of visitors to local trail facilities, etc.
- Contact elected leaders at the local, county, and state level to let them know you support funding for trails. You can find a sample script here (#2). Add in a personal appeal for trails in your community.
- Collect and share local trail data. You can use the analysis tool we provided in Section Two or work with land managers to find relevant data and distill it into easily communicated information. Inform elected leaders about trails that are in disrepair or incomplete and the possibilities for their improvement.
When working with elected officials, here are some tips to make your communications efforts more effective:
- Stick to the facts as much as possible. Include data to back up your communications and input from community members in support of your mission.
- Provide clear information about how your particular trails project will benefit the community. Be sure to include specific details and costs if possible.
- Be on-time, concise, and flexible in your approach.
- Be prepared to push communications forward. Always write a follow-up ‘thank you’ note or email reiterating your point. Don’t be afraid to reach out to officials if significant time has passed since your last communication.
- Understand what they are able to do and the timeline involved. Don’t advocate for unachievable goals.
However, the absolute best way to advocate for trails is to get elected officials out onto the trail. Invite leaders to join you on local trails and show them why you and your Year of the Trail planning committee are so passionate. Have a genuine conversation about what can be done to improve trails, increase access, and expand the trails network locally.
Destination Marketing Tips & Connecting with your Local Destination Marketing Organization
Most counties in North Carolina, and many municipalities, have a destination marketing organization (DMO) established to market the area to visitors as an attractive tourism destination. While DMOs can take many forms, the most common in North Carolina is a Tourism Development Authority (TDA) or a Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). Destination marketing may also fall under the purview of the local Economic Development Commission or Chamber of Commerce.
DMOs are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to best practices for promotion and marketing local trails. They may even be able to provide grants that support marketing, events, and sometimes even infrastructure development. Ask if a representative from your local DMO is available to join your Year of the Trail planning committee and lean on them for input regarding how to market local trails and events most effectively. If your committee members are new to media relations, your DMO can also offer valuable connections for story pitches and press releases.
Here are a few tips borrowed from Destination Marketing that may be helpful to your Year of the Trail planning committee:
- Focus on what makes local trails unique and/or exceptional. Talk about the viewsheds, history, and ecology that can’t be found anywhere else to encourage visitors.
- Define your KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – and narrow your engagement strategy to meet those indicators.
- Number of visitors to the trail
- Volunteer statistics (number of volunteers, hours worked, etc)
- Amount of money raised (new donors, repeat donors, etc)
- Target audience
- Social media statistics (friends, followers, likes, shares)
- Partner with other organizations to maximize your impact and cross-promote your destinations.
- Engage local & regional influencers to help share information about trails with their audience.
Often, DMOs (or other promotion organizations, such as downtown associations or historical societies) will link several connected destinations or experiences together to form a cultural trail. Cultural trails may focus on local culinary & beverage production, historic sites, or artwork (as well as many other heritage themes). The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has a Trails Guide that lists natural and cultural destinations across North Carolina.
Ask your Year of the Trail planning committee to think about the best way to connect local trails to existing cultural trails. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they located in close proximity?
- Do any local trails connect sites on a cultural trail?
- Can any sites on the cultural trail be seen from local trails (barn quilts, historic sites, etc)
- Are there trails that start or end near a cultural trail site (for example, brewery or restaurant) that could be included in an itinerary?
Once you’ve established a connection, speak with the cultural trails administrator about cross-promotion, both to visitors and local residents.
Guide to Asset-Based Economic Development
Asset-based economic development is a valuable way for communities to leverage the resources, infrastructure, and skills that already exist in their location. To accurately determine local capabilities for economic development, consider the following factors:
- Natural Resources
- Human Capital
- Physical Infrastructure
- Technological Capabilities
Speak to local leaders and discuss what elements of the community they think are valuable, either as they are or with improvement. Communicate results from the trail analysis referenced in Section Two and gather input and consensus on what trails projects could be beneficial to the economic development of your community.
You may also want to think about the following questions:
- What trails are overused and/or underused assets in your community?
- Is there funding available to complete proposed projects?
- Can proposed projects be maintained and cared for?
- What will the impact of proposed projects be to the surrounding community?
Do some research into what organizations are involved locally in asset-based economic development, most likely municipal governments or DMOs, and volunteer to be a part of the process.
Guide to Engaging Local Media
Engaging local media can be a simple process! Often, media outlets are looking for news to share and they love highlighting positive stories about the local community.
As your Year of the Trail planning committee builds your list of media contacts, communicate regularly about potential trail stories, timely news & updates from the trail community, and event invitations (with any fees or ticket prices waived). Often, a well-written press release will be reprinted in its entirety, so keep sending them out.
Consider pitching the following stories to local media outlets:
- A Trail Is Born: History of a local trail
- Different Types of Trails in [Community]
- Did you know?: Interesting tips and little known trivia about local trails
- Looking to the Future for [Location’s] Trails
- What Trails Mean to [Community]
- How Trails Benefit [Location]
It is also beneficial for reporters to research potential stories in-person. Invite media onto the trail and encourage them to visit local businesses and organizations that benefit from trails. These experiences are opportunities to get quotes for their article and take accompanying photos and videos.
While much of the focus of the Year of the Trail Community Toolkit has been on what happens during the Year of the Trail, opportunities for trails across North Carolina will continue to grow well beyond 2023. The Great Trails State Coalition will build on the excitement and momentum generated during 2023 to continue to advocate for increased investment in all types of trails statewide – hiking, paddling, mountain biking, equestrian, and paved.
Join the Great Trails State Coalition
One of the easiest and most impactful ways to advocate for trails is for your community to join the Great Trails State Coalition (GTSC). This statewide advocacy group is made up of a wide range of nonprofit, local government and industry partner members who stand behind a platform for trails.
The Great Trails State Coalition believes North Carolina is The Great Trails State, where each of our 100 counties can enjoy the proven benefits of trails, including health, safety, economic development, tourism, transportation, and the environment. GTSC is working to build upon North Carolina’s trail legacy by advocating for investment in and expansion of current trail systems across the state.
Local communities are encouraged to join the Great Trails State Coalition and add your voice to the mission. Visit the Great Trails State Coalition website for more information about how your community can be involved.
Create a Local Trails Committee
In many communities, this work will have already begun with the development of a local Year of the Trail Planning Team to guide Year of the Trail efforts. As your group begins to look past 2023, consider formally creating a local Trails Advisory Committee to advocate for future trail planning, development, and marketing. This could be a county-wide committee for rural counties or community-based. Consider if there are voices that you should add to your committee. This is also a point for current members to reflect on what has been accomplished during 2023 and their individual involvement in the future.
Your Year of the Trail Advisory Committee should embrace a ‘destination stewardship’ management approach to their efforts to encourage responsible recreation on local trails. The Great Trails State Coalition recommends that all local Trails Advisory Committees join Outdoor NC, a partnership between Visit NC, the NC Outdoor Recreation Industry, Leave No Trace, and many organizations across the state working to help preserve North Carolina’s natural beauty.
A primary goal of all Trails Advisory Committees should be to ensure local trails are well-maintained, clear of trash and debris, and able to support potential visitors. Development and marketing efforts should support both the visitor experience as well as the responsible use and development of trails.
Consider the following questions as you think about the future of your organization:
- Are there individuals or organizations who should be a part of this effort that aren’t already involved?
- What have we accomplished during 2023 and what do we hope to accomplish in the future?
- Does our work align with the needs/wants of our entire community? Is there a way to get more input, especially from community members underserved by and/or underrepresented on trails?
- Are there barriers to our work? What resources do we need to move forward?
Create a Comprehensive Trails and Greenways Plan
If your community doesn’t already have a comprehensive trails and greenways plan (or the existing plan is out of date), your Trails Advisory Committee can approach your local government and advocate for a comprehensive trails and greenway master plan.
This type of planning process works like any other – starting with an inventory of existing information and data (where you are), a vision & goal setting process (where you want to be), and am implementation plan with recommended tools and funding sources (how to get there). Local communities should also incorporate the Great Trails State Plan into local trail and greenway planning efforts, to work toward completing the plan and ensuring connectivity.
Build Support from Stakeholders
As your Trails Advisory Committee looks to the future, it is important to build support from community members who are able to further your organization’s mission. Invite members from the following to participate in discussion and committee work:
- Elected and appointed government officials
- Tourism Development Authorities or other Destination Marketing Organizations
- Funding entities
- Nonprofits and local community groups
- Local business leadership
- Land management organizations
- Local Parks & Recreation agencies
- County Extension Office
If your organization hasn’t already connected with these stakeholders, it may be helpful to introduce yourself to them and listen to their input on the future and possibilities for local trails, as well as challenges that may arise. Look into holding a forum where area stakeholders can offer input into the direction and mission of your organization.
Once a relationship has been established, make sure to stay in regular contact with stakeholders, funders, and other supporters who can help move your organization forward.
Build Support with Underrepresented Trail Users
While it may be more difficult to identify and reach underrepresented trail users, it is vitally important to connect with diverse community members to establish a broad support network and ensure that work is being done to benefit all trail users. Encourage members of your Trails Advisory Committee to reach out to their connections across the community (local nonprofits, friends & family, etc.) and ask questions about if they use trails and for what purpose. If they are not trail users, ask why not.
Listen carefully to the feedback you receive. Consider holding these conversations one-on-one, as underrepresented trail users may be less likely to join in a group conversation about trails on their own accord, or may not feel comfortable sharing sensitive information in a group setting.
Share some information about why trails are good for the community, whether or not someone is a regular and active user. These conversations should be intentional and occur with some regularity to really understand if your organization is serving all trail users in the community.
Increase Volunteers for Trail Maintenance
Even before your local Trails Advisory Committee thinks about expanding and growing the local trail network, all efforts should be made to keep existing trails in good condition: well-maintained, easily accessed, and clearly marked. Volunteers are essential to this effort and organizations should regularly consider how to both attract new volunteers and retain existing ones.
Friends of the Mountains-to- Sea Trail and Carolina Thread Trail offer excellent models for volunteer engagement. Also, refer back to Section Two, where volunteering on the trail is discussed in more detail.
Sign a Local Resolution
The Great Trails State Coalition encourages every local government across the state of North Carolina to sign a resolution in support of trails in their communities, if the community hasn’t already.
Signing these resolutions formally indicates the intent and purpose of your organization – and establishes the support of your local elected officials, which will be beneficial as your organization works towards meeting their goals and advocates for local trails.
Work Towards Regional Trails Organizations
Currently, in North Carolina, there are a few regional trails organizations that serve as a connector for trail systems in a specific part of the state.
The Carolina Thread Trail: The Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of connected greenways, trails, and blueways that reaches 15 counties, 2 states (CTT also has a presence in South Carolina), and 2.9 million people. There are over 260 miles of trails and 170 miles of blueway open to the public – linking people to places and communities to each other. The Thread Trail preserves our natural areas and is a space for recreation, transportation, and conservation. This is a landmark project that provides public and community benefits for people of every age, every background, and every community in our region. (from carolinathreadtrail.org)
Piedmont Legacy Trails: Piedmont Legacy Trails is the trails collective in the Piedmont Triad whose primary goal is to highlight our natural places, connect trail efforts, and give voice to regional trail interests for the benefit of our communities. Trails are a great way for people to enjoy nature and improve their mental and physical health while also benefiting local economies and the environment. When people get outside and experience nature, they are healthier, happier, and more likely to protect the places they love. (from https://www.piedmonttrails.org/piedmont-legacy-trails/)
Triangle Trails Initiative: is a collaboration between government, business, anchor institutions and civic leaders to make the Research Triangle Region a national leader in greenways and trails. Triangle Trails will work on behalf of the region to promote the extensive regional greenway system. (from https://www.facebook.com/TriangleTrailsInitiative/)
Currently, there are no regional trails organizations that serve the Eastern and Western parts of North Carolina. Combining the efforts of local organizations into regional entities will generate greater and more cohesive advocacy, development, and community-building capabilities than work done individually.
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Monthly Theme — May
“Explore NC Trails” Artwork by Lindsay Anderson
Monthly THeme — June
“Out(doors) and About this Summer!” Artwork by Lauren Patterson
2023 Monthly Themes:
- January: New Year, New Trails
- February: Make a Date with a Trail
- March: Spring into Action
- April: Celebrate NC Trails
- May: Explore NC Trails
- June: Out(doors) and About this Summer
- July: Celebrate NC Parks: Local, State, and National
- August: Wellness & Trails
- September: Achieve a Trail Goal
- October: Trail Innovators: Past & Present
- November: Show Gratitude for NC Trails
- December: Year in Review & Future Aspirations