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Getting kids and families on the Waterfront Trail

Getting kids out on to your trail: make sure it's easy for parents.

By David Arcus

"Our goal is to foster in the younger generation an appreciation for active recreation and an awareness of what trails have to offer."

With growing concerns over childhood inactivity and its effects on health, the question increasingly arises: how do you encourage kids to get outside and get active? We've learned through a series of campaigns aimed at kids and families that the key to getting kids on to your trail is to develop clear information designed for families that makes getting to the trail and knowing what to do once there easy.

The Waterfront Trail is a 680 km multi-use trail, which follows the shorelines of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, Canada. The scope of the Trail— 680 km— could both impress and overwhelm families from venturing on to it. While the Waterfront Trail was mapped extensively with information helpful to families, people simply did not know where to start and often were unaware of the wide range of family activities available along the Trail.

To address this problem, in 2006, we developed the "Tastes of the Trail" Starter's Kit, a package designed to introduce kids and families to the Waterfront Trail through a series of "bite-size" day trips (4-10 km) that used quiet, easy, off-road sections of trail, near to fun attractions or natural sites. The package provides mini-guides and maps for 5 different day-trips, with all the information required to get out and start a trip along the Trail.

A digital version of the kit was developed for our website ( With the help of some media exposure through local radio and television spots, we were able to get the word out about the kits, and the response was huge. We heard from lots of families who told us that they had been planning on exploring the Trail and the Starter's Kits had finally provided them with the means and impetus to do so.

We followed this up in 2007 with a campaign called the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure, this time directed at the kids themselves. We developed a brochure that appealed to kids and showed many of the fun, family-friendly activities offered along the trail and also provided ideas for weekend trips along the Trail centred around existing waterfront festivals. The brochures were distributed to schools and tourism offices along the Trail and included as an insert in the popular kids magazines. As with the Starter's Kits we also developed a web version of the material, accessible from our website.

These campaigns led to a significant increase in the Waterfront Trail's website activity, which jumped by 40% from 2005 to 2006 (the year the Kits were introduced) and by another 16% in 2007 with the introduction of the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure.

We were fortunate to receive support for these two initiatives from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion. These projects fall in line with the Ministry's Trails Strategy, part of their Active 2010 campaign which promotes active lifestyles for Ontarians. We are also grateful to CIBC, one of Canada's leading banks and a founding sponsor since 1996, for their continued support.

This year, we're very excited to be taking the concept of the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure to the next stage by creating the first annual Great Waterfront Trail Adventure Tour, a supported end-to-end cycling tour of the Waterfront Trail. This event is open to cyclists of all ages and skill levels and we are actively encouraging kids and families to participate by developing itineraries suited to their needs (e.g. off-road sections of trail, great playgrounds, beaches). Our hope is that by continuing to promote the trail as an exciting destination for kids and families, we can continue to foster in the younger generation an appreciation for active recreation and an awareness of what trails have to offer.

"My family and I and a couple of my daughters have been talking about exploring the Waterfront Trail recently. Please send me a copy of the Waterfront Trail Starter's Kit to help my family begin our discovery." —email from Trail user

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