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Ideas for statewide trails events for National Trails Day

This article was written for Pathways Across America to share some of the experiences we had with our first Colorado Trails Days celebration. We hope to encourage every state to develop a statewide trails celebration and join in National Trails Day.

By Stuart H. Macdonald
Colorado State Trails Coordinator from 1984-2002

Why hold an event for National Trails Day in in your state?
The fact is that any public awareness and media exposure we generate for trails will help all of us in the long run. I can put it very simply: to recognize community and volunteer efforts, tell the public about trail opportunities, and promote trail plans and projects.

"Encourage everyone to remember (or discover) that trails are fun!"

What does it take to put on a National Trails Day event? Every town and area is different, with wide variations in trail opportunities, user groups, agencies, land managers, and climate, so there is no perfect model to follow, but here are some suggestions from our experiences around Colorado:

Decide on your goals and what you want to accomplish. Goals may be fairly broad: Do you want more publicity for trails? More business involvement? Promote regional and local trails plans? Raise money? Encourage and enlist volunteers? Attract visitors? Goals may also be very individual and specific: recognize a special contributor; promote the new trails map; get Senator Foghorn on a bicycle or in a river raft.

Pick a target date for your events. June 4, 1994, has been selected for National Trails Day, so we hope you will plan your events around this day. This may not be the most ideal time of year for some areas, but it is a time when most people are eager to be outdoors and to plan summer activities. Important events may also be held on the steps of city hall or at an indoor slide show. We feel that publicity and information sharing are just as important as getting people physically out on the trails, so we hope June 5, 1993 will be a reasonable compromise for everyone. Other events that same week or during the month of June will also be publicized.

Get the ball rolling. First, call up a few people who have good ideas, even if they can't commit to a major role. Do some brain-storming to get your creativity flowing, and think about what else is going on in the community and who should be involved. Then hold a meeting with a potential supporters from business, volunteer groups, trail users, and agencies. You should then have even more ideas than you can follow up on, and a few volunteers. Start listing specific jobs and responsibilities and set some deadlines. Agree on who will be in charge to follow up on the details, speak to the media, and enlist others for specific tasks. More details can be found in the Event Organizers Handbook, available free from the State Trails Program.

Look for resources and opportunities. While it is a lot of work to carry out any big event, most of the National Trails Day events have been done with volunteers and whatever time a few key people can work into their regular jobs. Publicize the project early and start talking to organizations and businesses to see who we you can interest in participating. If you have a great idea, others will want to be involved and you will be in a position to take advantage of opportunities.

Create publicity opportunities. The media need news, especially good news, and we should be determined to give it to them. Summarize why trails are important to you, what has been accomplished, and what needs to be done; write your own articles on any trails topic; provide top quality photographs and a photo opportunity on a trail. Make a personal contact with a newspaper or radio reporter. Invite them to learn firsthand about your group, club, trails interest, or project. We will again send out a series of news releases for local and statewide media and put together a press kit of trail events, plans, news and accomplishments. We also sponsor a media kickoff in May for the statewide media and produce the Colorado Trails Resource Guide with volunteer help and donated funds.

Encourage a variety of events. How do you decide what kinds of trail-related events to hold? We don't have the resources to sponsor individual events or coordinate a state-wide volunteer effort, but we do have an amazing diversity of trail users and trail projects, both in cities and in the mountains. As a result we've seen a myriad of types of events: river clean-ups, accessible trail construction, and competitions; bicycle, horseback, Volksmarch, and hiking tours; urban multi-use trail celebrations and opening ceremonies for new trails; a variety of volunteer trail construction, maintenance, and clean-up projects; walks led by historic preservation, environmental education, archaeology, and birdwatching groups; and several fundraisers. The common interest was a love of trail activities in the great outdoors, and it was all good news.

Recognize trails supporters. So many people are involved in building, maintaining, and promoting trails and greenways we ought to take advantage of any opportunity to thank them. Think about the people from all walks of life who have contributed to trails in your area. Besides physically building and maintaining trails, they have donated money, supplies, printing, food, and equipment; elected officials have supported funding; businesses, landowners, and agencies have provided easements and land; and both citizens and government people have worked to solve problems. In addition to local recognition, the awards dinner at the Colorado Trails Symposium will provide a chance to honor major volunteer efforts and give awards to communities and agencies prominent in trails development.

And finally, encourage everyone to remember (or discover) that trails are fun!

A few ideas for trail events and publicity:

1. Trail Work: Plan a volunteer trail-building project, a trail clean-up, or a maintenance work day.

2. Trail Fun: Encourage people to use your trails, print maps in the newspaper, give a guided tour, hold a competitive event or fundraiser.

3. New Trails: Celebrate a recently-completed trail, hold a ground-breaking ceremony for a new one, publicize a major trail plan.

4. Greenways: Plan a river clean-up, habitat improvement project, or raft trip along a section of river where you plan to build trails.

5. High Country Trails: If there's snow on your trail in June, hold a fundraiser and show slides, sell maps and guidebooks, line up summer volunteers.

6. Parks Departments: Use this occasion to tell the public where your trails are, how much you've accomplished, what you plan in the future.

7. Citizens' Groups: Promote your organization and its goals, write articles for the local press, get the public out to see a trail project or problem area.

8. Clubs and User Groups: Publicize your club or trail activity, offer lessons or tours for beginners, work on a trail with an entirely different user group.

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